It’s hard to tell, but Pogo the Severe Macaw has had a rough life.
“Pogo was confiscated in a methamphetamine drug bust out of Nebraska, so she was exposed both to the chemicals to make methamphetamines and the drug,” said Deb Allwein. “Pogo constantly says ‘cracker’ and it’s not because she wants a cracker, it was the slang they used at the drug house.”
But now Pogo is one of 31 parrots in Allwein’s No-R-Birds Parrot Sanctuary – a non-profit dedicated to providing a safe haven for abused or needy parrots that Allwein started in Colorado with her husband Bob Allwein and now continues in the cheerfully lime green basement of her home in Nicholson.
“No-R-Birds” represents what Allwein said she hopes to accomplish through education – ending the need for sanctuaries because birds no longer need to be rescued, relinquished or ransomed – surrendered for money.
Allwein said for the 60 million to 90 million estimated birds in homes across the country, there are only 107 welfare organizations not directly associated with breeders. And her sanctuary is no longer taking in birds.
“We’re closed right now,” she said. “We just don’t have the space, we don’t have the money and we don’t have the time to take in anymore birds.”
Pogo is doing much better, but unfortunately her story is not the only tragic one. Allwein said parrots are the third most popular pet in the United States and that there are no special regulations for the care and upkeep of pet birds besides that they have food, water and shelter.
Carly, for example, is a white Umbrella Cockatoo with a broken beak and a sweet temperament.
“She was actually about five years old when we got her and we were home number six for her,” Allwein said. “And that’s unfortunate but that’s the reality of a lot of parrots. They average about seven homes in their lifetime.”
Then there’s T-Bird the toucan who has iron storage disease because some of his original owners didn’t understand or pay attention to his nutritional needs.
“His liver is extremely compromised, and every day we come down here and T-Bird’s alive we’re just thrilled to death,” Allwein said.
Much of the hardship parrots face in captivity is the result of ignorant owners, Allwein said, especially about reinforcing behaviors.
“They don’t understand punishment so it takes many, many months and years sometimes to earn the trust of a bird and the first time that you hit it or you’re physically abusive you’re start[ing] at ground zero,” she said.
Birds need to be groomed every six months, she said, and their beaks can grow one to one-and-a-half inches in that time.
“We have actually seen birds, looked at birds, where the upper beak had grown down into their neck or their upper beak had grown up around into their head,” she said. “In the wild that generally doesn’t happen because birds that have deformities don’t generally last in the wild.”
Some birds – like Rio, a Military Macaw – came to Allwein from a loving home. The shift from living with so much love and attention to living with so many other birds caused Rio enough stress that he plucked out all his chest feathers, a common behavioral or medical symptom.
“We’re trying to be as transparent as possible. There are so many welfare organizations that won’t tell you the truth because they think it makes them look bad,” Allwein said. “I am the first one to tell you that these birds shouldn’t be here. They really shouldn’t be here. They should all be in the wild first. And secondly, if they can’t be in the wild and you insist on making them a pet, then make them part of your family.”
But parrots face challenges in the wild from poaching and habitat destruction as well. Allwein said there are more Hyacinth Macaws left in captivity than there are free in South America. Breeding practices threaten potential genetic reservoirs for parrots because people want colorful birds first.
“[With] the loss of habitat and illegal smuggling, we are losing the lineage of parrots,” she said. “We bring them into captivity and we start crossbreeding them. We don’t have any more pure strains of the birds, so what happens when they’re gone out of the wild?”
Nancy Hunter said she has volunteered at the sanctuary every Wednesday since last year after meeting Allwein at a dinner party. She had been thinking about buying a bird of her own but now she said she was waiting.
“I have realized being with [Allwein] that they need even more than at least at this point in my life,” Hunter said. “It just would not be good for me to take on a bird that needs that attention – any bird – I’m just not in a position to do that and that became very clear to me working with Deb. She has just given me a lot.”
Allwein said she initially got started working with parrots in a bird supply store in Colorado. She said she watched the birds in the store, learning how they behaved, interacted with people and to care for them. After two years of watching, she thought she was ready for a bird of her own.
“I’ll tell you what. I don’t care how much experience you have interacting with the bird. You are never ready to make the transition of bird interaction to bird owner or bird companion,” Allwein said. “I wasn’t ready. Fortunately Jesse was resilient enough that all of my screw ups didn’t turn in him into a nasty ugly bird. I made mistake, I still make mistakes. I’m still learning.”
In the past six or seven years, only 16 birds from the sanctuary have been placed with families, Allwein said. None of them have needed to come back.
She also said they were looking for volunteers, especially students, as construction is finished on their outdoor flight and they continue their educational outreach.
The sanctuary is open for tours of five people or less. There is no charge, but a there is a suggested donation of around $100. People can also offer to sponsor birds or donate items like pecans or paper for lining the cages, Allwein said.
“I think Deb’s platform now is to educate people who think they want a bird but you need to know the bottom line about what these birds need before you make a purchase,” said Lynn Jenkins, a retired teacher who also volunteers at the sanctuary. “Don’t just do it on a whim because it’s a life. I guess Deb and her volunteers – we’re just trying to be their voice.”
Allwein said most parrots are an impulse by. Here are some things to keep in mind before purchasing a bird.
Thieves steal parrots from garden
11:54am Saturday 16th February 2013 in News
An African Grey parrot similar to the ones stolen.
TWO parrots have been stolen from a Hampshire garden.
The birds, both African Greys believed to be about 20 years old, were taken from an aviary in a garden in St Margaret’s Lane, Titchfield between 10pm on Tuesday and 8am on Wednesday .
The parrots are mainly grey with some red tail feathers and one was injured and has a distinctive hole in the top of his beak.
Anyone with information can call PC Ruzewicz at Park Gate police station on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
12:40pm Sat 16 Feb 13
Anybody know what stuffing goes well with parrot.
May be well to look around the polygon area.(;0)
4:24pm Sat 16 Feb 13
very funny think of the poor person who they have been stolen from. Hopefully they wont be preyed upon by cats sparrowhawks or anyone else. If it were me i’d be gutted but then we have pet birds and love animals. If people cant show a bit of compassion dont bother posting
8:25pm Sat 16 Feb 13
African Grays are very smart, the 2nd most talking Parrots and need a lot of care and attention, this or these thieves can only have 2 motives, to keep or sell on, they could of taken the owners best friends, the Parrots will mimick the owners voice and any noises around there home, the owners will be devasted they been stolen, let’s hope they are noisy and irratating to the Thief and somebody reads this and reports to the Police
10:14pm Sat 16 Feb 13
exactly whoever they belong to maybe on their own and these parrots are their only companions. Parrots are smart, at least you have a heart Malcy. Pity the first poster on this article cant show a bit of compassion instead of crass comments
10:56pm Sat 16 Feb 13
I hope the thieves have their fingers bitten off and end up watching the birds crush their finger bones to dust.
11:40pm Sat 16 Feb 13
here here so do I. We temporarily took in a canary last year, they were securely locked in the shed, some bright spark got in and released them, the idiots had no thought for how the poor souls would fare or the devastation it causes the owner
11:11am Sun 17 Feb 13
You are right sparkster, looking at the Grammar tells it’s own story, having remarked on it I spelt irritating wrong, I have the Dictionary with me next time, Ginger you that’s more like it Ouch !!
11:13am Sun 17 Feb 13
I’m having a bad day commenting sorry readers, should of gone to spec savers!!
Comment now! Register or sign in below.
Parrots are wonderful and entertaining pets; however, they have a tendency to create a significant mess in and around their bird cages from spent food and bird droppings. Responsibility for a healthy, happy bird requires good housekeeping in addition to playtime and emotional bonding. Of course, anyone would rather spend quality time with his or her birds than on cleanups. Yet, there are plenty of quick and easy bird cage cleaning strategies.
When my husband and I became “empty nesters” (no pun intended!), we decided to adopt a baby African grey, which we named Pepper. As excited as I was anticipating the arrival of our new bird, I secretly dreaded the extra cleaning time we would be spending to keep our home sparkling.
By Gina Cioli/BowTie Studio
Birds make messes instinctively, but there are ways to combat the mess.
According to Jane Gesser, bird breeder and co-owner of Critters Closet in Georgia, a parrot’s role in the wild is to disperse seeds from fruits and nuts, both in droppings and in unused portions of food that fall to the ground. Parrots and many other species of birds are nature’s feathered farmers. They help the environment by dropping seeds that germinate and grow.
Unfortunately, pet birds don’t discriminate between our homes and the jungle floor of their native habitat. Owners must take responsibility for cleanliness and hygiene in the home to create ecology of well-being for all who live there.
When Pepper was ready to come home, my husband refurbished an older bird cage to be Pepper’s play area. We also purchased a roomy cage for his main residence and sleeping spot. It didn’t take us long to observe that our new bird created the predicted mess in the vicinity of both bird cages.
After a few weeks of trying different cleaning methods, I developed a simple system that minimizes the time and work necessary to keep Pepper’s areas, especially around the bird cage, as neat as possible. First, I purchased several easily obtainable and inexpensive items for a total cost of roughly $100.
According to Stewart Colby, DVM, practitioner of exotic animal medicine in Alpharetta, Georgia, cleanliness may be one of the single best ways to keep your bird healthy. Bits of pet bird food and droppings can attract insects, which are often vectors for illnesses. It can also become a breeding ground for harmful pathogens. Transmission of psittacosis is associated with dried bird feces. Food that has been left out for too long can grow fungi, and dirty water can grow a variety of bacteria that can make a bird sick.
Where Pet Bird Mess Comes From
The bulk of the mess in the bird cage area comes from food, although droppings and feather debris can be nuisances, too. A key part of my daily cleaning routine involves removing wet edibles from feeding cups and the cage bottom as soon as possible. Wet food attracts insects more quickly than dry foods. Dry nourishment consists of pellets, seeds or nuts, but in a humid environment even these dry bits will absorb moisture and begin to create some of the problems associated with the wet material.
We incorporate moist food items into special socializing time that coincides with our own dinnertime and breakfast. At breakfast, Pepper might get a portion of my oatmeal or banana. At dinnertime, I cut up fresh fruit and vegetables for him. Any uneaten portions of wet food are cleaned up immediately after each meal. Bird cage food cups are emptied and cleaned once a day, and unused dry bird food is thrown out, either wrapped in plastic bags or put down the garbage disposal.
Get To The Bottom Of Things
We cover the bottoms of the bird cages with newspapers. With a little luck, you may find a paper that fits perfectly in the bottom tray. Use the non-colored portions of the paper, and never use glossy pages. You can also order a custom-made cage liner from any number of manufacturers. Liners should be changed daily, preferably in the morning or just before bedtime, especially if your bird has a penchant for foraging beneath the grate during the day. This will keep the cage free of molded bits of food and feces, and it’s a quick and easy way to clean up the daily bird mess.
Newer bird cages have powder coating, which easily wipes clean with a damp paper towel or with soap and water. Many cages also have metal skirts that attach near the base and fan out to catch debris that flies out from between the bars.
Clear Plexiglas sheets attached to the side of the cage serve as a barrier to bits of food and water that Pepper might fling onto the walls. Purchase them at a hardware store and cut to fit the dimensions of the sides of the cage, or choose a custom cage protector from a bird product manufacturer.
I secure each plastic sheet by using a single metal S-hook made of stainless steel that Pepper could not possibly chew through or hurt himself on. The hook slips over the horizontal bar that runs above the level of the feeding cup and the top of the Plexiglas sheet to secure it. The bottom of the Plexiglas piece rests snugly against the metal skirt that is attached along the base of the cage.
Fortunately, my bird has not shown any curiosity with either the Plexiglas or the metal hooks that hold them in place. C-clamps could be another way to hold the plastic in place, and spring clamps might also work well. Whatever hardware items you decide to use, make certain they are made of nontoxic material, such stainless steel. Also, avoid exposing your pet bird to any harmful substance that could be bitten off and cause choking.
I knew immediately that something needed to be placed underneath the bird cages to protect our carpets – and it needed to be easy to clean. A nonporous surface would be ideal to wash, sweep or vacuum the dirt off. Hardware stores sell clear vinyl carpet protectors that come in thicknesses ranging from “low pile” to “heavy duty” carpet runners. The bottom is covered with small plastic grippers that gently dig into the carpet, resulting in a stable surface, which is easily swept or wiped clean. You might also try a plastic chair mat from an office supply store or a custom-made one from a bird-specialty manufacturer.
Once a week, I roll the cage off the mats and take them outside to quickly hose off any sticky food or droppings. The mats can be hung over a rail, and they dry in a matter of minutes.
No matter what you do, there will still be shells, hulls and bits of food that end up on the floor near your bird’s cage. I discovered that the easiest way to clean this dry material off the floor is with a mechanical brush sweeper. This handy device shouldn’t frighten your bird the way a vacuum might, and it discreetly stores in a corner near the cage for easy access.
A hand-held, battery-operated vacuum might be another choice for your cage area cleaning strategy, and a steam cleaner can do wonders to remove dried on bits of food and feces on the actual cage.
Birds cannot be expected to clean up after themselves. Simplify your daily cleaning chores by creating manageable routines based on some preventive measures and basic cleanup habits. The payoff is that you are ensuring a healthy bird along with a clean and healthy household.
Excerpt from BIRD TALK Magazine, December 2005 issue, with permission from its publisher, BowTie Magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. To purchase digital back issues of BIRD TALK Magazine, click here.
Looking for more cleaning tips?
Pet Bird Tidying Tips
TWO parrots worth £4,000 have been stolen from a pet shop.
The birds, known as Rosie, right, and Henry, below, were taken in a late-night raid on The Pet Shop in Station Road, Shirehampton.
Owners Tim Florey, 53, and his 33-year-old son Jonathan raised the birds by hand.
Rosie, a three-year-old pink Gala parrot, often repeats the phrases “give us a kiss” and “kiss, kiss, kiss”.
Henry, a four-year-old white Triton Cockatoo, says “hello Charlie” and “good morning”.
Mr Florey said: “The birds were a bit like the shop’s pets because we never expected to sell them.”
The break-in was at 11.40pm on November 26 and involved two white men who arrived in a white van, which appeared to be a Vauxhall Vivaro and had stolen number plates, which have since been found.
A Sheung Shui animal shelter remains temporarily closed after five workers came down with parrot fever, health authorities said.
Eight other Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department workers are being tested for psittacosis. A department spokeswoman said 16 parrots, which were imported from South America, were placed in quarantine on October 20 while the importer prepared necessary documents. Of the 16, three died and 10 were put down following the suspected outbreak. The five male workers at the New Territories North Animal Management Centre, aged 27 to 64, came down with fever, cough and pneumonia from November 6 to November 24. One has recovered while three are in hospitals in Hong Kong and one is a hospital in Australia. Of the five workers, three tested positive for the infection. The disease is usually transmitted to humans through the respiratory system from dried droppings and secretions of infected birds, the Centre for Health Protection said last night. “Pet birds such as parrots, cockatiels, parakeets, macaws and poultry [turkeys and ducks] are most frequently involved. Person- to-person transmissions are rare,” it added. The center also contacted 59 other staff working in the animal center and found eight had symptoms of upper respiratory infections. Common symptoms include fever, headache, rash, muscle pain, chills and dry cough. Pneumonia may occur in serious cases. The incubation period ranges from one to four weeks. Psittacosis can be effectively treated with antibiotics. A shopkeeper surnamed Chan, working at the Parrot Shop at Tung Choi Street, said his birds are caged separately so he discounted the possibility of any outbreak in the event of an infection. Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man reiterated the disease cannot spread from person to person. University of Hong Kong microbiology professor Ho Pak- leung said infection may occur if people touch places contaminated by droppings. In a separate development, a mother whose three-year-old son died in December staged a protest together with Kwai Tsing district councillor Ng Kim-sing urging Ko to act in the case. The boy was admitted to the Princess Margaret Hospital in September last year with a high fever, chicken pox, diarrhea and other symptoms. He was sent to intensive care after staying in a children’s ward. His mother suspects that he was infected in the hospital.
Eight other Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department workers are being tested for psittacosis.
A department spokeswoman said 16 parrots, which were imported from South America, were placed in quarantine on October 20 while the importer prepared necessary documents.
Of the 16, three died and 10 were put down following the suspected outbreak.
The five male workers at the New Territories North Animal Management Centre, aged 27 to 64, came down with fever, cough and pneumonia from November 6 to November 24.
One has recovered while three are in hospitals in Hong Kong and one is a hospital in Australia.
Of the five workers, three tested positive for the infection.
The disease is usually transmitted to humans through the respiratory system from dried droppings and secretions of infected birds, the Centre for Health Protection said last night.
“Pet birds such as parrots, cockatiels, parakeets, macaws and poultry [turkeys and ducks] are most frequently involved. Person- to-person transmissions are rare,” it added.
The center also contacted 59 other staff working in the animal center and found eight had symptoms of upper respiratory infections.
Common symptoms include fever, headache, rash, muscle pain, chills and dry cough. Pneumonia may occur in serious cases.
The incubation period ranges from one to four weeks. Psittacosis can be effectively treated with antibiotics.
A shopkeeper surnamed Chan, working at the Parrot Shop at Tung Choi Street, said his birds are caged separately so he discounted the possibility of any outbreak in the event of an infection.
Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man reiterated the disease cannot spread from person to person.
University of Hong Kong microbiology professor Ho Pak- leung said infection may occur if people touch places contaminated by droppings.
In a separate development, a mother whose three-year-old son died in December staged a protest together with Kwai Tsing district councillor Ng Kim-sing urging Ko to act in the case.
The boy was admitted to the Princess Margaret Hospital in September last year with a high fever, chicken pox, diarrhea and other symptoms. He was sent to intensive care after staying in a children’s ward.
His mother suspects that he was infected in the hospital.
Excerpt from BIRD TALK Magazine, June 2004 issue, with permission from its publisher, BowTie Magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. To purchase digital back issues of BIRD TALK Magazine, click here.
Obviously nobody wants to turn his or her bird into a sleep-deprived or cabin-fever suffering basket case. Fortunately, there are steps you can take modify the dark and light cycles for your pet birds to keep them healthy and happy. Avian veterinarians and bird behaviorists generally make the following recommendations:
1) Let your bird have 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night.
Most pet birds do best with between 10 and 12 hours of darkness a night. This is generality; some species do better with a little more than 12 hours of sleep, others like less than eight, but most need somewhere around the 10 to 12 hour mark.
By Gina Cioli/BowTie Inc.
Provide a sleep cage for your bird, so it can get a good night’s sleep.
The majority of parrots are tropical or subtropical, meaning they live near the equator where there are 12 hours of darkness every night,” noted Ken Welle, DVM, an avian veterinarian who practices in Illinois. In the wild, parrots are awake from sunrise to sunset, which amounts to about 12 hours on average, and sleep from sunset to sunrise the other 12 hours in the day.
Many pet parrots do well on a sunset-to-sunrise sleeping schedule; they get the amount of sleep they need, and they’re awake when nature designed them to be awake and asleep when nature designed them to be sleeping. Reality is a lot of bird owners are away at work all day and don’t get home until 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening, which during much of the year may be after it’s already gotten dark outside or just a short time before sunset. Obviously if these people “put their birds to bed” at sunset that doesn’t leave a lot of time for interacting.
You can let your birds stay up past sunset, “but then you’re going to need to allow them to sleep later in the morning,” said Julie Burge DVM, a veterinarian and bird breeder in Missouri. That means if you leave for work when it’s still dark in the morning, you shouldn’t turn on the lights in the room where you keep your parrots, nor should you disturb them in any way. Let them sleep as long as they can. Unless their cages are covered, birds usually awaken when the sun comes up. Keep in mind that your bird should have at least 10 hours of darkness, so if the sun rises at 6:30am, you should not keep your bird up past 8:30pm the night before.
But, you may ask, what if you work 2nd shift or you’re taking night classes and you don’t get home until late at night? Your parrot may have been sleeping for several hours before you get home. Is it okay to wake him up so that you can interact with him a while? “Yes,” said Larry Nemetz, DVM, an exotics-only veterinarian in southern California. “Your parrots do not have to have 10 straight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. It’s okay to break up their sleep, especially if that’s the only way you can have time to play with them.”
But that doesn’t mean you should suddenly wake them up from a deep sleep and immediately put your hands in their cage. If you do, you’re bound to be bitten. “Just turn on the lights, let them wake up slowly so they don’t freak out, and give them a half hour or so to gear up for some play,” Nemetz suggested. “Don’t just go in the bird room and startle them awake and expect them to immediately be ready to start playing with you.”
Once the late-night play session is over with, most parrots have no problem going right back to sleep. Again, you should try to ensure your bird has 10 hours of darkness for sleeping, so if it has already been sleeping for five hours before you got home, make sure you don’t keep it up so late that it is not going to have five hours of darkness left for sleeping.
2) Use sleep cages, cage covers or room-darkening blinds to help your bird sleep.
You may also need to take some steps to create an environment for your parrot that is more conducive for sleeping. Kim Bear, a parrot behavior consultant in Florida, recommends bird owners provide their parrot with a “sleep cage.” This would be a smaller cage that’s just used for sleeping.
The sleep cage should be put in a room that’s completely dark and quiet, where the bird is not going to be disturbed — such as a spare bedroom, laundry room or even a large walk-in closet. During the daytime the bird would be housed in its regular, larger bird cage or bird stand in the family room, den or other highly trafficked part of the house. But when it’s time for the bird to go to sleep, it would be transferred to its sleep cage.
Bear said, “A lot of people keep their parrot next to their television in the family room, but oftentimes the parrot can’t get to sleep even if the lights are dimmed because there might be a lot of noise coming from the TV, the family might be talking or laughing, maybe people are coming and going, and so it makes a lot of sense to move the parrot to another part of the house at night where he’s not going to hear all that racket.”
An additional step you might want to take is to place a cage cover over your bird’s cage when it’s time for it to go to sleep. This is especially a good idea if you have to keep your bird in a room where the lights are kept on late at night, but even birds that sleep in a nighttime cage in an isolated room can still benefit from a cage cover.
“The cage cover prevents pet birds from seeing a lot of things that might startle them, such as passing car headlights shining through a window and stray dogs or cats or wild animals that might be wandering outside,” said Ann Vann, longtime bird owner and co-owner of Vann’s of Louisiana. You can use a dark towel or blanket to cover the cage or a specially made cage cover. (Note: For some birds, such as cockatiels, complete darkness may cause problems with night frights, and it may be necessary to leave part of their cages uncovered and plug in a night light to allow them to see.)
For people who keep their birds up late and there’s no way the birds would get 10 hours of natural darkness before sunrise, Burge recommended installing room darkening drapes or blinds where the bird sleeps. That way if your birds were up until 11pm or midnight, you could keep the blinds shut and the room dark until 10 o’clock the next morning to allow your birds to still get 10 hours of darkness. If you leave for work earlier than that, you can put the room lights on a timer so that they will come on at the right time in the morning to awaken your birds.
3) Adjust light/dark cycles depending on species, season and behavioral challenges.
Some adjustment in your bird’s sleep schedule may be necessary now and then. If your bird is a species that comes from one of the more temperate regions of the world (for instance, you might have a Meyer’s parrot, which is native to southeastern Africa, or a Deryban parakeet that originates from Tibet), it may need a little more variation in its light/dark cycles during the year than the straight 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness that is ideal for a species native to equatorial regions (such as an orange-winged Amazon parrot whose home range is the Amazon rain forest).
“The further away their home range is from the equator, the more seasonal changes are going to be significant,” said Don Harris, DVM, an avian veterinarian in Florida. So, if you’ve got a bird from one of the more temperate regions, it may need 10 hours of light and 14 hours of darkness in the winter months, and 14 hours of light and 10 hours of dark in the summer months. Some people go so far as to try to mimic the light/dark cycles of their birds’ home range, so they will gradually start shortening the days for their birds when moving from mid-summer to winter and lengthening the days when moving from mid-winter to summer. This is something you might want to try if you’ve got a species from one of the temperate regions. But if your bird is from the tropics, where the hours of light and darkness are even and consistent year-round, it probably won’t need the seasonal variation.
You may also want to modify the light/dark cycles, depending on whether you want to encourage or discourage “breeding mode” in your birds. If you’ve got a pair of birds and you wish to stimulate reproductive activity, Welle suggested you gradually increase day length from 10 hours daily to about 16 hours daily.
On the other hand, if your bird is exhibiting behavior problems related to reproductive hormones (this could be anything from aggressive biting in a sexually mature cockatoo or Amazon, to chronic egg laying in a cockatiel), Welle recommended limiting the bird to eight to 10 hours of light daily to try shut down those reproductive hormones. You will probably need to use room darkening blinds and/or cage covers to artificially bring-on nighttime earlier for these birds. This is something you would do on a temporary basis. Once the hormonally-related behavior has stopped (it may take several weeks or more to curtail the behavior), then you can gradually start lengthening the days back to what is normal for the bird.
It’s worth noting that decreasing the photoperiod (light cycles) is not the solution for every hormonally-charged bird. “For birds from temperate to polar regions, photoperiod is the most important influence on reproduction. But the closer to the equator the bird is from, the less influence it may have,” Welle said.
4) Provide natural sunlight or UV lighting.
One final important consideration relating to photoperiod is the type of light your bird is exposed to. Ideally, pet birds should have some exposure to natural light every day. That requires them to actually go outdoors. “Indoor birds do not receive the benefits of the UV light emitted by the sun,” noted Gregory Burkett, DVM, an avian veterinarian in Durham, North Carolina. Most window glass is treated to prevent ultraviolet (UV) rays from passing through and [rays]do not reach the bird.
Exactly how much exposure to natural light do birds need? Harris recommended that pet birds get between four and six hours of unobstructed skylight a day, but if that’s not reasonable even a couple of hours a day outside will help. “The sun doesn’t have to directly hit the bird, but they have to have unobstructed sky,” Harris said. “Being outside under a tree is okay as long as the sky is visible. Being under a patio is OK too, as long as there is no screen between the bird and the sky.”
By Gina Cioli/BowTie Inc./Courtesy Jennifer Ketchersid
Aspergillosis can develop in birds with weakened immune systems.
This is a condition developing from a group of fungi, Aspergillus sp. It develops as a respiratory disease, usually in pet birds with a weakened immune system. African parrots (i.e., African grey parrots, Poicephalus parrots, lovebirds, etc) are especially prone to contracting the disease from exposure to excessive numbers of fungal spores. The aspergillosis fungus is commonly found in soil, dust, molded grains, eucalyptus bark and wet cage litter. This disease can develop in pet birds after long-term treatment with immunosuppressive medications, after extended illness, traumatic injury, long-term antibiotic therapy or smoke inhalation.
A pet bird may inhale the spores when a surface growing the fungus is disturbed. A dusty room and inadequate ventilation can make a pet bird more prone to aspergillosis. “Signs of aspergillosis may include a change in voice, reluctance to talk, respiratory click, and difficulty breathing, depending on where the lesion is,” said Margaret Wissman, DVM, in the July 2001 issue of BIRD TALK. “A bird may show exercise intolerance, increased respiratory rate, weight loss, muscle wasting, decreased appetite, diarrhea, increased urination, depression or lethargy,” she said.
If a pet bird shows any of these symptoms, immediately consult an avian veterinarian to determine the cause. Birds with aspergillosis usually have an increased white blood cell count. Serology (blood tests) can demonstrate elevated titers against the organism or by elevated antibody titers. Endoscopy can be used to diagnose this disease as can protein electrophoresis of the blood, and radiographs can identify changes in the air sacs and lungs in advanced cases. Often, several different tests are necessary to correctly diagnose aspergillosis.
Follow the recommendations for treatment by your avian vet. Itraconazole is a drug commonly used to treat birds with aspergillosis, Wissman said in the July 2001 article, but it should be used with caution in African grey parrots. Other antifungal treatments are available. In addition to oral medication, adjunct therapy is usually necessary. Surgery or endoscopy may be used to remove lesions and nebulizing the bird with antifungal medication is helpful for respiratory cases.
Disclaimer: BirdChannel.com’s Health Index is intended for educational purposes only. It is not meant to replace the expertise and experience of a professional veterinarian. Do not use the information presented here to make decisions about your bird’s health if you suspect your pet is sick. If your pet is showing signs of illness or you notice changes in your bird’s behavior, take your pet to the nearest veterinarian or an emergency pet clinic as soon as possible.
Excerpt from BIRD TALK Magazine, July 2006 issue, with permission from its publisher, BowTie Magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. To purchase digital back issues of BIRD TALK Magazine, click here.
There are so many pet birds and parrots that need good homes. Those that generously open their hearts to these pet birds should be complimented. They might, however, encounter some unexpected behavior problems that the bird learned in its earlier home.
Although your re-homed parrot is not a child, it might help you understand your bird’s behavior if you visualize it as a foster child. Your new parrot does not understand why she is in a strange location or what happened to her previous owners. She is confused, and it is totally logical that she does not yet trust that she is safe in your environment. This can cause a bird to act frightened of its new owners or to exhibit fearful behavior. I know of an adopted Senegal parrot that panicked whenever anyone walked near the bird cage.
By Gina Cioli/BowTie Inc./Courtesy Amy Baggs.
If your parrot is nervous around you, work with it to make it more comfortable with you.
I suggested several things to make this Senegal parrot feel more comfortable in its new home. First, move your birds cage out of high-traffic areas and away from doors or other entryways. People shouldn’t have to pass by the bird’s cage to get to somewhere else in the house. For now, an ideal location would be in a corner on a wall opposite a doorway. If there is a window near the cage, make certain that her cage is only partially in front of it, allowing some solid wall behind her for security. This should curb her fearful behavior.
Give your parrot a hiding place so she can hide from you as well as the outside world. A sheet draped over part of the cage will provide such a haven or even a large toy that allows her to hide behind it.
When you need to service the cage, approach slowly, talking quietly to your parrot so she doesn’t think that you are sneaking up like a predator. Keep your head down a little and slightly averted. Don’t make direct eye contact for more than a second or two. A two-eyed predator’s stare can unnerve a prey animal like a parrot.
For reasons that we don’t fully understand, it often seems that a parrot startles more around its territory, such as the cage, than when the bird is elsewhere.
Parrot behavior consultant Sally Blanchard’s “chair exercise” is excellent for helping frightened birds become comfortable with people in close proximity to their cages. Gradually move a chair closer to your bird’s cage. Over several days, move the chair a few inches toward the cage, then walk away. Only move it enough so that she still appears relaxed. Eventually position the chair close to the open door of the cage. Sit down facing slightly away from her, so she sees your face from the side. Read aloud from a book or magazine in a calm and friendly voice. Show her the pretty pictures in BIRD TALK. Do this for five to 10 minutes every day.
As you are doing this, watch your bird’s behavior with your peripheral vision. Is her body language beginning to relax, or is she becoming tenser? If she tenses and acts more afraid, slowly back off. If you look up at her, look away after a couple of seconds. When she starts to relax with you close by, bring a favorite food treat the next time you visit the cage.
Patience is crucial to your success with overcoming fearful behavior in your parrot. The more you allow her choices in her interactions with you, the more likely she will be to seek your company. Take your time, and let her move at her own speed; this will make all the difference. You have years to enjoy each other; there is no rush.
Excerpt from BIRD TALK Magazine, November 2005 issue, with permission from its publisher, BowTie Magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. To purchase digital back issues of BIRD TALK Magazine, click here.
My first pet cockatiel, Buzzy, was a diabetic, so, being both an avian vet and an owner of a diabetic bird, I do have some insight to share. Diabetes mellitus is a disease involving the pancreas. To understand treatment, we must first have at least a basic understanding of diabetes and the hormones produced by the pancreas. So, let’s start there.
With mammals, diabetes mellitus is caused by the pancreas no longer producing enough insulin, a hormone involved with sugar metabolism and regulation. This is called Type 1 (or juvenile) diabetes. In mammals, Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body no longer responds correctly to insulin. In both forms, the blood glucose level rises, often to dangerous levels, and the body is unable to adequately utilize glucose for many necessary body functions. There is also another disease called diabetes insipidus, which is a completely different. So, for the rest of this column, I will refer only to diabetes mellitus when I use the term diabetes.
By Gina Cioli/BowTie Inc./Courtesy Jennifer Ketchersid
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can be dangerous or life threatening. For this reason, owners of diabetic birds must always keep corn syrup, sugar water or other simple-sugar containing liquids on hand, in case of a hypoglycemic crisis. If the blood-glucose level drops too low, seizures, coma or death can result.
Most parrots with diabetes, like mammals, also have elevated blood-glucose levels, but the cause is different. In mammals, diabetes is caused by problems with not enough insulin. But with avian species, the problem is that too much of the hormone glucagon is produced. Glucagon overproduction causes the blood-sugar level to rise, just as when insulin is not properly utilized, which also results in high blood-sugar levels. The end result in both cases is high blood-sugar levels. (I have often thought there should be another name for psittacine diabetes, because the cause is so different, although the result is the same.)
Blood-glucose levels that are persistently elevated above 500 to 600 mg/dl, can indicate diabetes. Blood glucose levels can range from 600 to 2,000 mg/dl, and a definitive diagnosis of diabetes can usually be made if the blood-glucose level is persistently above 800 mg/dl.
A thorough physical examination, complete blood count and plasma chemistry panel should be performed, including a urinalysis. Normal avian urine can contain trace to moderate amounts of glucose. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to test a bird for elevated levels of glucagon. There is a way to test insulin levels, but because this seems to be a problem with the overproduction of glucagon, it would not be helpful. Therefore, blood glucose levels, the bird’s history, clinical signs and other test results are all used in diagnosing diabetes.
Treatment For Diabetes In Pet Birds
In all cases, it is vital for the diabetic patient to consume a low-carbohydrate, low-sugar diet. Some carbohydrates are necessary for life, so they should not be eliminated completely from the diet. The amount of daily activity and exercise for a diabetic bird must also be regulated in order to maintain blood sugar levels within normal limits. Injectable insulin used for humans often results in variable uptake, utilization and breakdown by psittacines. For some reason, birds tend to quickly eliminate insulin from their systems. Dosing is highly variable, and some birds quickly develop insulin resistance.
With diabetic birds, the goal of treatment is to provide enough insulin to overwhelm the overproduction of glucagon in the system, unlike normal Type 1 diabetes, where the goal is to provide enough insulin to bring the blood-glucose levels back down to normal. The result is the same — to normalize blood-glucose levels is the goal.
Unfortunately, injectable insulin has proved less than satisfactory in controlling blood glucose levels in avian patients. Even long-acting injectable insulin usually only provides a few hours of normal glucose utilization by the tissues.
The medication you mentioned, glipizide, has proved to be an effective treatment for diabetes in birds, better than injectable insulin, in some cases. This medication is given orally, which is easier for some owners who might be wary of needles.
While hyperglycemia is detrimental to the health of an animal, it cannot cause a life-threatening immediate situation, but hypoglycemia can. Low blood sugar can cause shaking, pale, cool skin, anxiety and may even progress to hypoglycemic seizures and death. At the first sign of hypoglycemia, something containing simple sugars should be administered (but not chocolate or caffeine containing products).
In humans, we strive for very tight control of blood-sugar levels, but this is just not practical or possible in psittacine patients, so we hope to keep the blood sugar within the normal range as best we can. This may require significant testing to establish a correct dosage of medication.
One way to monitor the patient at home is by using urine dipsticks for sugar. Birds should have a trace amount of sugar in the urine on a daily basis. Still, the diabetic patient needs to periodically be seen and evaluated by its avian vet. Because there is no cure for diabetes, treatment will most likely continue for the life of the bird.
More On Avian Diabetes
What causes diabetes in birds is unknown. Some speculate that weight, diet and heredity are factors. It is most common in cockatiels, budgies and toucans.
The symptoms of avian diabetes are similar to those found in other species.
1) Urinalysis will show elevated sugar levels.
2) Birds with diabetes often drink excessive amounts of water and also urinate excessively. (Increased urine in the droppings must be differentiated from diarrhea, which is an increased volume of fluid in the feces.)
Some birds with diabetes may start out overweight, but many will become thin from not properly utilizing glucose. Animals with diabetes are more susceptible to infections.
An elevated blood-sugar level, called hyperglycemia, is a symptom and not a disease in itself. There can be many causes of hyperglycemia in birds, stress is one. Corticosteroids can also elevate blood-glucose levels, either when produced by the adrenal glands of the bird, or if administered orally, topically or injectably.
Vets unfamiliar with avian medicine may use a topical cream or ointment containing a steroid, usually to treat feather picking, which can end up mimicking the signs of diabetes. Certain liver diseases and infectious diseases can also cause hyperglycemia and the signs of diabetes.
By Gina Cioli/BowTie/Courtesy Omar’s Exotic Birds
Depending on the species of Eclectus, a male Eclectus reaches sexual maturity around 2 years old.
Q: I just adopted a male Eclectus that will be 4 years old in this summer. I have only had him for two weeks, and I understand that they come into sexual maturity about this time. He is an awesome little guy and he is very affectionate; maybe too affectionate. Every time I have him with me, he starts getting sexually aroused. I know I should distract him or put him back on his bird cage, but if I did this I would hardly get to have him with me. Is this just something that happens once or twice a year? I love playing with him but he immediately starts getting aroused and starts regurgitating his food. He is not selective about his affection either; he’s that way with anyone who wants to hold him.
A: Your statement that your Eclectus responds sexually to anyone who holds him does not surprise me. One advantage of living with an Eclectus is that they usually don’t form a strong mate bond with one person. Because of this, an Eclectus is less likely to show aggression toward other people when it is around its primary person.
Sexual behavior in parrots can create some complex problems for the people in their lives. Your Eclectus might have been handled by its previous caregivers in a way that stimulated it in a sexual manner, so this may be, a “normal” behavior for your pet bird. Another possibility is an increase in the quality of your Eclectus care. While we strive to improve the life of any parrot that comes to us from a previous home, sometime the changes can create some unintended consequences.
In the wild, an increase in light and humidity signals the breeding season. To parrots it means that there will be adequate food for their babies. It is natural that these same conditions will also influence the behavior of our pet birds. When my double yellow-headed Amazon parrot hen, Pascal, came to live with me when she was 13 years old, she was not used to an optimal environment. I gave her baths, improved what bird food she ate, added full-spectrum lighting, put new toys in her new cage and gave her a lot more attention. It reached the point where I couldn’t walk in the room without her showing serious sexual behaviors.
I am not suggesting that you cut back on the quality of the care you provide for your Eclectus, but you may need to make some changes at least until it settles down. It might help to cut back on the daily duration of light and cut his showers back to once a week. When you do handle your Eclectus, avoid any petting or stroking that could stimulate it even more. When your parrot is behaving in this manner, avoid making direct eye contact with it for more than a minute or so, as this may contribute to its sexual arousal. If the behavior continues for more than a few weeks, I would certainly recommend that you consult with your avian veterinarian. Sustained sexual behavior and its hormonal overload can create serious health problems. Your veterinarian might be able to help control this behavior with medication.
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