Is Any Pellet Better Than No Pellet?

October 23, 2013 § 17 Comments

I very frequently get requests to continue working on the Pellet Project, which I discontinued a while back due to just getting very busy.  (You can read the only page I left standing from the Pellet Project, on Totally Organics Pellets, here.)  I had only gotten through a few pellets anyway, and the work ahead of me was quite staggering.  Well, I am toying with the idea of continuing it.  Slowly.  If you feel strongly that I should or should not, I would appreciate your feedback.

However, today, I wanted to tackle a slightly different question, raised in the title of this post.  (It could also be titled, how do I know if my pellet is any good?  If any of you remember my work on the Pellet Project, you will notice that this entry is almost a DIY-version of it.)  One of the most common and confusing mind sets that I see as quite a pervasive and dominant philosophy in the parrot world is that any pellet must be better than no pellet at all.  I’m not quite sure how this started or how people came to believe this so widely and so surely, as if it is fact.  But I’d like to question that belief.

If you’re a frequent reader of my blog, you’ve probably already read my entry on my philosophy on pellets, so this discussion will probably be somewhat repetitive.  But if you haven’t read it, or if you’re anybody that’s interested in parrots’ diets, or pellets in particular, please do keep reading.

Back on topic: where do we get this notion, that any pellet is better than no pellet?  Why do we inherently believe that pellets have some sort of secret, magical nutrition locked away in them?  First of all, wildlife researchers and ornithologists or even researchers specializing in avians and exotics don’t know what the daily nutritional profile of most parrot species looks like.  We have very little idea of exactly what kind of nutritional breakdown parrots are getting in the wild, so the notion that a pellet company can formulate a diet tailored specifically to pet birds’ needs is a bit ludicrous to me.

And then there’s the fact that these diets are specifically “tailored” to pet birds’ needs, yet the ingredients list of a macaw pellet is so often the same as a budgerigar pellet — that’s right, macaws, a type of parrot that is native to the rain forests of Central and South America, are being fed the same formula as budgies, a type of parrot that is native to the arid lands of Australia.  The only difference, in most cases, is size.  Something fishy, isn’t there?

I certainly think there is, and I think more parrot owners should, too.  I think that one of the most important things we can do as parrot owners is to educate ourselves about diet and nutrition for our birds’ sake.  And although I encourage everybody to research the wild diet of their parrots, this information is unavailable in a lot of cases, or rather unhelpful to the captive bird owner in terms of finding readily available local equivalents and substitutes– so at least research the diets that are available to you, and start by reading the ingredients in your pellets.

Pellet ingredient lists are very long and thus can seem quite daunting.  But if you know how to pull them apart, and what to look for, you can discern a lot about quality.

Getting Started: Base Ingredients

I like to look at the first five ingredients to get started.  These will be what I call the “base” ingredients of the pellet (it may differ from pellet to pellet; some pellets might only have 3 whereas others might have 7 or 8).  But usually, the first five or so ingredients will make up the majority of the content of the pellet, since manufacturers must list ingredients ranked in order of how much of the product each ingredient constitutes.  Usually, you will see something like wheat, corn, rice, or soy.  Because these ingredients will make up most of the pellet, these are very important in revealing the quality of the pellet.  As such, you want to see a good variety of healthy grains or seeds.  With the pervasiveness of GMO wheat, corn, and soy, I really don’t like to see those three ingredients in a pellet unless they are certified organic.  Some parrot owners actually don’t like to see those ingredients all together, because they are three of the most common allergens in birds.  Rice tends to be a healthier choice, but brown rice is an even better one.  But as someone actually wisely pointed out to me today, even rice has its problems, as it is often found to contain high levels of arsenic.

Furthermore, pay attention to how these ingredients appear.  Does it say “whole soybeans,” or does it say “ground soybean meal”?  Grain “meals” are often indicators of far lower quality ingredients, often reserved for pet foods only and in some cases not fit for human grade foods.

Remember, these first ingredients will make up the bulk of the pellet, and the rest of the ingredients will typically be flavor enhancers, preservatives, and vitamins.  So if you are feeding a majority-pellet diet, think to yourself: would you want to eat corn/wheat/soy/rice every single day, along with a multivitamin?  Do you think that’d be healthy?  Do you think you’d like it… everyday?  What if you had evolved to eat fruits and seeds normally, as many parrots have?  Do you think that some “ground corn meal” with a vitamin would be your ideal diet?

Step Two: Look at the  Vitamins

After tackling the base ingredients, the next step is  to try to discern where the vitamins are coming from.  Most of these will be listed under obvious names, like “Vitamin D3 Supplement,” Vitamin E Supplement,” “Calcium Carbonate,” etcetera.  Some will be less obvious, such as “Menadione Sodium Bisulfate Complex,” which is a type of Vitamin K.  And some will be even less obvious, because they’ll be embedded in other ingredients like carrot powder as a source of all natural Vitamin A.  But these are also important to think about.  For one, some vitamins are downright dangerous– menadione, for example, is banned from human food and I would not feed it to my birds under any circumstances.  (I wrote an entry on it here.)  Another thing to consider is that while in synthetic form, some vitamins can be overdosed on.  All natural sources of vitamins, however, from whole foods (like carrots, to use the example above) cannot be overdosed on, as the body will use that which it needs and excrete the rest naturally.  And finally, some consider the addition of Vitamin D3 to be extremely important for bone density and calcium absorption, in particular for parrots that do not get a lot of exposure to natural sunlight.

Step Three: Everything Else

The rest of the ingredients will likely fall under additives, flavor enhancers, or preservatives.  Take a good look at these and make sure you are comfortable with them.  Some are positive and/or benign, like fruit juices to add flavor and sometimes even natural color, or herbs to add flavor and health benefits.  Some are relatively uncontroversial preservatives like Mixed Tocopherols (unless your parrot has a soy allergy).  Some are things you’ve never heard of, and if you looked into, would probably not be happy about.  So don’t be complacent, and look into them!  Why should your parrot eat Canthaxanthin when you don’t know what it is?  Another consideration is peanuts.  Many of us also choose not to feed peanuts– but several pellets also contain peanuts.

Step Four: The Labeling

One last thing: is the product certified organic?  If so, then you know its ingredients are non-GMO, which for me means a lot.  What about human grade?  This is another indicator of quality.

Of course, this entire process will likely involve looking up a few things you’ve never heard of, but what’s an hour of research on the internet in comparison to the health of your companion parrot?  Once you know the ingredients in your pellet and can understand where the base of the pellet is coming from, what kinds of vitamins it contains, as well as what additives or preservatives, you will be able to develop an informed opinion on the quality of the pellet as well as develop your own opinion as to how comfortable you feel about feeding it.  I think that many of us will be surprised to learn that we are not comfortable with many of the pellets on the market.  As I’m sure you can tell, I have very strong opinions about food, diet, and nutrition.  But I hope that this entry will teach other parrot owners to arrive at their own conclusions, based on educated decisions.

So back to our original question: is any pellet better than no pellet?  That’s up for you to decide, but I think that in more cases than not, the answer is no.

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Peace & Calming through Essential Oils

March 2, 2012 § 4 Comments

Yesterday, I diffused a new Young Living essential oil, Peace & Calming, for the first time.  Wow.  What an effect!  Again, almost immediately, all three of my birds this time responded very positively to the new scent wafting through the air.  Charles and Sabrina again had the most dramatic reactions.  Both of them were immediately calmed by the essential oil, and their noisy chatter turned into very pleasant, soft, higher-pitched chirps.  Sabrina actually stopped trying to attack Charles through the acrylic divider in their cage, and the two of them sat across from each other making lovey-dovey eyes.  It was unbelievable!  Lola, too, actually responded to this oil.  Usually in the afternoon when I come home from work, she is hyperactive and anxious to get out of her cage.  But as soon as I started diffusing, she stopped her squeaking and begging, and sat on the platform perch in front of her cage and just soaked it in.  She seemed utterly at peace and actually okay with the fact that I was home and she was in her cage.

In the spirit of disseminating practical advice for using essential oils with birds, I’ll talk about some of the more logistical things.  Since I last wrote about essential oils, I have worked my way up to full thirty minute diffusion sessions once daily with my birds.  Because tomorrow is Saturday, I will probably try more than one diffusion session in a day for the first time.  Conservative estimates generally consider three thirty-minute sessions a day to be safe (again, keeping to a schedule of either three days on, one day off; or five days on, two days off).

I had been diffusing Joy for about one week when I decided to switch.  There was still a small amount of Joy essential oil diluted with water in my diffuser, however, and I could have poured it into a glass bottle for keeping for further use.  This is okay to do so long as the smell of the essential oil is still strong; once the scent degrades, so do the beneficial effects.  Unfortunately, I did not have any receptacles handy and decided to pour out the extra Joy mixture.  I am not sure how much longer the mixture would have lasted, but I wanted to try a new oil.  I suppose I should invest in a few glass jars for the future.  But I poured it out and rinsed out the bowl of my diffuser, and switched to a few drops of Peace & Calming instead.  We will probably continue using this oil for another week or so, or until the mixture is completely diffused (since I am diffusing for longer amounts of time, it might be used up more quickly).

fleece-covered platform perches

Since we’re on the topic of peace and calming, I figured I’d also throw in a photo of these very adorable little fleece-covered platform perches I recently had custom made from a chinchilla shop actually.  They are regular pine wood platform perches with stainless steel hardware, only they have little envelope-style covers made to fit over them so that the birds have a snug and cozy place to rest their feet.  There’s one for each.  I hope they like them!

My First Diffusing Experience

February 24, 2012 § 5 Comments

… was nothing short of surreal.  I can’t even begin to describe how sublime an experience it was.  It was like nothing else. Let’s back up.  Yesterday I received all my wonderful essential oil equipment and couldn’t have been more excited.  I mentioned in this post why I’m interested in diffusing (please read it if you are considering using essential oils; there are many safety precautions to take!), but it was much more theoretical and only discussed the why and the what.  In this post, I aim to address the how: I’ve read so much fantastic information about why essential oils are great and what they can do to help our parrots and ourselves, but I’ve found considerably less concrete advice on what exactly to do when it comes to diffusing.  Which diffuser?  Which oils or blends?  How much?  How long?  How often?  It’s all of these little things that are so vitally important that I hope to address here and in future posts.  That said, I am by no means an expert; quite the contrary!  I hope that anybody reading this will also do their own research and decide what is best for their own flock.

my ultrasonic, water-based diffuser

I’ll start with diffusers.  There are several different kinds, but at the recommendation of Dr. Shelton and other essential oil (EO) users, the best kinds to use with parrots in particular are water-based and not air-based diffusers.  Air-based diffusers release the EOs directly into the air in a more potent concentration, whereas water-based diffusers dilute the EOs, which in my opinion is probably particularly important in the beginning.  When you are just starting out with EOs, it is important to monitor your parrots very carefully for any discomfort or unusual behavior and reactions.  (If you notice any discomfort or unusual behavior or reactions, it is important to stop diffusing immediately and ventilate the area.)  It is also important to make sure that the diffuser you choose does not heat the EOs at all, as this can damage their healing properties and benefits. Young Living actually sells various diffusers on their site, but Dr. Shelton and many other people I consulted in my research highly recommended a different ultrasonic diffuser by Plant Extracts International.  This diffuser is not only water-based but it also has three different volume settings that allow you to control the output (which, again, is so important in the beginning: I started out at low) and it is virtually silent.  It also has colored lights which can be turned off if desired. I wasn’t crazy about the looks of this diffuser because it looks like a spaceship or a crock pot, and there’s one Young Living diffuser in particular that is far more aesthetically pleasing, but I was actually pleasantly surprised by it when it arrived in the mail.  The photo doesn’t really show this quite well, but it’s very compact!  I thought it was going to be rather large (I really was thinking crock pot), but it’s a very small and pleasant size that isn’t imposing in a room by any means. Once you have your diffuser, you need your oils.  Again, as I covered in my last post, you absolutely cannot purchase any old EOs and use them in your diffusers.  Poor quality EOs can actually be deadly to birds, so please be very careful.  In my research, Young Living essential oils are the absolute safest to use around parrots.  But, purchasing them isn’t as easy as it seems.  Young Living works through distributors rather than directly to customers.  Thus, you can either choose to purchase through somebody you know who has an account with Young Living, or you can enroll with Young Living yourself. As much as I would love for you all to purchase through me so that I could make money off of your purchases, that simply wouldn’t be fair.  I strongly recommend that anybody interested in EOs enroll with Young Living as an independent distributor, as I have.  At first I absolutely did not want the responsibility of being a “distributor,” but it’s really far less complicated than it seems.  All that being a distributor means is that you purchase an enrollment kit (which can be as little as $40), and then as long as you spend $50 per year (which trust me, you will), you get wholesale prices on all Young Living products.  Wholesale prices are a whopping 24% off, so you’ll earn your money back very quickly, plus the $40 kit comes with two YLEOs and a $40 coupon for a diffuser (among other things).  To be honest, I’m not sure why anybody wouldn’t become a distributor!  You have no obligation to sell whatsoever (as I’ve chosen not to sell).  To enroll, however, you do need a member referral number.  You can use mine, which is 1304850.  As far as I understand I don’t think I receive anything for referring people but I will obviously disclose if I do.  (I hope I’ve gotten across the message, however, that I’m not in this for any sort of compensation.)

the Young Living essential oils I chose to start out with

So, once you enroll, you must choose which oils to start out with, unless you have a solid four figures to drop on a full set of all of the oils.  I’m going to assume that most of us don’t and have to be a little bit more choosy.  As you can see from the photo above, I purchased the two EOs that came with my $40 enrollment kit: Lavender and Peppermint, along with five other EOs: one single oil, Copaiba; and four blends of oils, Joy, Peace & Calming, Thieves, and Valor.  I’ll briefly outline why I chose each one.

  • Copaiba is an excellent anti-inflammatory.  I’ve read about it used to prevent swelling and pain, and used with tumors.  According to Young Living, it also aids in digestion and supports the body’s response to injury and irritation.
  • Joy, as its name implies, is an uplifting blend that raises mood.  It is said to help shake grief and depression and can also be worn as a perfume.  It has a lovely scent and I’d read so many people raving about it that I simply had to try it.
  • Peace & Calming is another very uplifting blend, but it is more targeted towards promoting relaxation and providing a sense of calm.  It supports emotional well-being and can help to lift tension and anxiety.  It also helps promote restful sleep.  I immediately thought of Sabrina when I read about this blend.  Her feisty spirit could use some peace and calming!
  • Thieves was probably the most highly touted of all of the EOs I read about.  It has some incredible properties, according to some reports, including that it may be antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, antiviral, etc.  It also supports the immune system and general good health.  Many people swear by it and use it to clean cages, carpets, dishes, etc.
  • Valor was not one that immediately jumped out at me as something I needed among my flock, but again, I had read so many positive reviews of the effects of valor that I was swayed.  Valor is said to help energy alignment in the body to increase feelings of strength, courage, and self-esteem.  It enhances one’s internal resources and has helped with many nervous birds.

There are many, many other great oils to use.  Two others that come highly touted are orange and lemon, which are actually quite inexpensive, but I didn’t want to go too overboard.  Eventually, depending on how these work out for us, I hope to purchase those, as well as other very popular ones such as Trauma Life, Purification, ImmuPower, PanAway, Geranium, and others. Once you have your oils and you have your diffuser, you can finally get started!  I chose to begin with Joy, simply because I’d heard so many positive reviews of it and I figured all of our moods could use some uplifting after Sabrina’s scary episode earlier this week.  It is very important to start slowly and carefully with EOs.  Once you fill your diffuser with one cup of distilled or purified bottled water and a few drops of your chosen oil, you should absolutely be present in the room and very carefully watching and observing your parrots.  I chose to diffuse Joy at the lowest volume for only five minutes about three to five feet away from my birds. It’s difficult to describe the immediate calming effects Joy had on my budgies.  Anybody that has a pair or more knows what they are like: they are incredibly active, busy, pleasantly noisy little birds.  Sabrina in particular is the feistiest little budgie I have ever seen.  They are always hopping from perch to perch, playing with this toy and that, never sitting still.  As soon as I turned on the diffuser– which they were oddly not afraid of at all (they are typically quite fearful of foreign objects)– they both propped themselves up on their perches and were transfixed by the diffuser.  They became so utterly calm.  Then, the weirdest thing happened: they both started to look up, as if looking at the sky, and just had the absolute most peaceful look on their faces that I have ever seen.  Seriously.  It was beyond bizarre.  They aren’t even that peaceful when they are sleeping.  Sabrina tucked one of her little footsies up and just looked like she was in Heaven.  Charles began preening away.  They just seemed so happy! As soon as I turned it off after our short five minute session, the both of them came to the front of the cage and just stared at me and the diffuser, as if to say, “Why did you turn it off?!”  Lola, who is always a zen bird, didn’t have any immediately noticeable changes, but she seemed pleasantly un-phased by the new, uplifting scent in the room.  I’m wondering if she will respond to other oils differently. Honestly, I didn’t think that diffusing would have such immediate effects, but I have never seen my two little ones act like that. In any case, after diffusing, I had a minor freak out when I realized I had no idea what to do with the left over water and oil mixture left in my diffuser and I called a friend of mine who so graciously answered my panicked questions.  (I was worried that I left it in the diffuser in the same room, it’d give them a sensory overload.)  So for anybody new to this as I am, you can leave the oil mixture in your diffuser and save it for next time.  As long as you can still smell the scent of the oil the next time you diffuse, it will have its beneficial effects.  Eventually, the quality will degrade, at which point you can dispose of any leftover if you have yet to already diffuse it all.  (It is, however, important to clean your diffuser with mild soap and water at least once a month.) From here on out I will continue our brief diffusing sessions, adding five minutes every time, so today will be ten minutes.  As long as all goes well, tomorrow will be fifteen.  From what I’ve read, it is generally considered safe to eventually build up to having three 15-30 minute diffusing sessions for five straight days, then two days off; or three straight days with one day off. That’s all for today, but hopefully I will be able to continue writing about our experiences diffusing with more practical advice for fellow parrot owners.  But again, please be sure to do your own research and to understand all of the benefits and risks involved.  I am by no means an expert and I am simply synthesizing the advice and experience of others, and very much learning as I go.

Essential Oils and Parrots

February 22, 2012 § 22 Comments

In the past several months I’d been slowly hearing and reading about more and more people touting the health benefits and healing properties of essential oils for their parrots.  My gut reaction was: no!  Anything scented is something that I don’t want near my parrots at all, ever.  I’m pretty extreme in that regard: not only have I ruled out air fresheners, candles, incense, scented sprays, and similar products in my home, but I myself no longer wear perfume or scented cosmetic products either.  But when I’d read that a holistic avian veterinarian also promoted the use of essential oils along with some of my most trusted and knowledgeable parrot owning friends, I decided to do some more research.

What I learned was very fascinating.  Yes, it’s true– in general, most scented items like the ones listed above are indeed harmful for our birds.  But, some (very few actually) extremely high quality and high grade essential oils can actually be incredibly beneficial.  I’ve learned so much over the past few months that it’s difficult to compile it all; in writing this post, I changed my “starting point” three times.  But finally I’ve chosen somewhere to start: at the beginning, with the essential oils themselves.

What exactly are essential oils?  At their most basic, they are aromatic, volatile liquids found in plants, and as their name suggests, they are vital for a plant to grow and live.  One website calls them “living energy” and a friend of mine describes them as the life blood of a plant: just like we wouldn’t survive if we didn’t have blood, a plant wouldn’t survive without its essential oils.  They support various life processes and regulate plant functions.  Different oils have many different properties, from healing to purifying to protecting.  Many are antibacterial and antifungal.  Research shows that they may have been used as early as 4,500 BC, and the Ancient Egyptians used them for treating illnesses as well as for religious ceremonies and rituals.

They sound pretty incredible– but there is one big caveat.  Essential oils come in many different grades, and can be easily adulterated with different chemical and synthetic additives in order to make them cheaper to produce for companies.  These essential oils are the reason why the vast majority of parrot owners have always been told that essential oils are a big no-no: these essential oils are actually harmful and toxic to parrots.  Over 90% of essential oils on the market are not of therapeutic grade quality, and even of those that are therapeutic grade, there are differing levels of quality.  This is why it is incredibly important only to buy certain brands of essential oils.

In my research, only two companies are producing oils that are therapeutic grade and high enough quality (with the testing to prove it) to use around parrots.  The most highly recommended one that I have come across is Young Living, who create pure, unadulterated, therapeutic grade essential oils.  They begin with the soil: their plants are only grown on virgin land that has never been treated with pesticides or other harsh chemicals.  Once plants are harvested, they are distilled using a gentle steam-extraction technique that leaves their chemical composition and healing properties in tact.  Every single batch of oils produced is then completely analyzed for purity before being sold, ensuring the highest possible quality.  And unlike any other company, their spectrometry testing is actually available for each oil.  Many big believers and users of essential oils swear by Young Living and only use their oils, exclusively.

But why use them in the first place?  I don’t normally need to “heal” anything in my flock, since (knock on wood) we are lucky enough to be in good health.  (Ironically, we had an emergency situation with Sabrina this week, but the vet has been taking great care of her.  Otherwise, we’ve all been in great health as of late.)  For a few months I wasn’t interested in essential oils, simply because I thought they were more medicinal than anything else.  But when I began reading several reports of essential oils not only healing birds but helping birds’ moods and behavior and hormones, I became fascinated.  I’ve read testimonials of essential oils helping to calm hormonal birds, helping birds overcome the loss of mate or a friend, helping to increase birds’ appetites, helping to reduce screaming, and more.  Even more alluring to me were the many reports I’d read that essential oils also helped the parrot owners themselves: they felt less stress, more calm, more happy, and more at peace when using certain essential oils.  Parrot owners could also safely wear “perfumes” again in the form of essential oils.  But perhaps the most interesting facet of my research on essential oils was that almost all of these reported changes were instant: I saw many people purchase their diffusers and oils and report positive experiences within days!

After several months of deliberation and discussion with many essential oil users (thank you to all of you who answered my barrages of questions!) and essential oil producers, I finally decided that we would also try diffusing and using essential oils.  Although we are all healthy, I would love to see if perhaps some oil blends like Peace & Calming can help to calm down Sabrina a bit, or perhaps encourage her to get along with Charles a bit better.  I’m also interested in Thieves, which many swear by for its cleansing abilities as well as its immune system support.  It’s supposedly an all natural antifungal, antibacterial, antimicrobial essential oil that is 100% safe and non-toxic to use around birds.  I finally took the plunge and purchased a diffuser, a model recommended by a holistic vet, along with a few oils to begin with.

I’m taking things very slowly at first while I am still getting started, but hopefully I will have more to report soon.  My diffuser should arrive here on Thursday, and my fancy shmancy oils should be here soon after.  Once those arrive, I’ll post more about how to choose a diffuser and some benefits of different oils and oil blends.  This isn’t an inexpensive investment, but I truly believe that the rewards will be great.

For anybody interested in using essential oils with their parrots, don’t take my word for it: visit Dr. Melissa Shelton’s website on essential oils and animals, or visit the excellent Essential Bird group website.  Read more about Young Living Essential Oils in particular or to get started.  (If you do decide to get started, let me know if you need a referral number as they work through distributors and referrals.)  A little research never hurt!

Sun in February

February 17, 2012 § 4 Comments

We’ve had such an incredibly mild winter this year that I’ve actually been pretty consistently getting the flock outside for natural sunlight about once or twice a week.  It’s pretty incredibly considering that this time last year it was in the 20’s and 30’s, and two years ago we had “snowpocalypse” and schools and government jobs were shut down for nine straight days.  Sun in February!  I can’t believe it.

Lola catching some rays outside

Having read a few interesting studies about weaker bones and lower bone density of parrots who live in colder climates due to a lack of sunlight exposure, I am naturally very concerned with getting my parrots enough Vitamin D3.  I’m not a big believer in the ability of synthetic sources to provide adequate amounts of or even adequate quality Vitamin D3 (and all sources of Vitamin D3 in all of the current pellets on the market that I’ve seen are indeed synthetic supplements), so my only options are limited to a few natural food sources (egg yolks, for example, are one source) and natural sunlight.  (I am also not a big believer in full spectrum lighting having the ability to provide Vitamin D3 — I believe it is necessary, yes, but for completely different reasons.)  But most research shows that by far, natural sunlight is the very best source and most efficient source of Vitamin D3, so I prize any time I can get my parrots outside under the sun.  Lola and Sabrina actually adore it.  Charles couldn’t care less, but I drag him outside for his own good anyway.

On a related note, another great food source for Vitamin D3 is fatty fish, like salmon.  (Actually, it’s an exceedingly far richer source of it than egg yolks.)  As a vegetarian, salmon really never enters my household, but I was recently chatting with a very trusted parrot food expert and fellow bird owner and decided to purchase some sustainably wild caught salmon to bake or grill for my flock.  I think it will be an odd experience for me to be handling and cooking it, but the health of my birds is worth it.  I can’t count on mild winters every year, so I’d like to make sure that I have ways of getting them their vitamins through natural sources year round.

Lola finally checking out the bridge swing!

checking it out from all different angles

In other news, Lola has finally decided to stop completely ignoring the painstaking creation that my hands bled to beget!  (The budgies are still pretending it doesn’t exist.)  She humored me by playing on it for a good twenty minutes yesterday.  I felt relieved and vindicated.  I think she actually kind of liked it!

close-up of the foraging blocks

These photos are for Ming, who asked for close-ups of the foraging blocks.  There are two styles, weird trapezoids and triangles, and they have either a side foraging hole or a top foraging hole.  They’re made of white pine wood.  Hope this is what you were looking for!

An Ethical and Safe Bird Store Policy, Part Two

December 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

This entry is the second installation in a short series on what it means to have an ethical and safe bird store policy.  To read the introduction and part one, click here.

The second aspect of my policy is safety in terms of spreading avian diseases.  While this sounds harmless enough, it actually limits the market quite a bit, far more than part one.  When people ask me why I do not shop with a certain vendor, this is usually the most common reason, and most people always say that they hadn’t even thought to ask.  There are so, so many vendors that are not bird-free.  This one is always such an interesting one to me because so many people seem hyper-cognizant of disease– to the point where they won’t even take their parrots to the vet for fear of it– yet they are reckless in terms of where they shop and the risk of exposure to other parrots.  We should never forget that a ton of bird store owners are also bird owners.  They love and own birds, and that’s what inspired them to open their own stores.  That’s okay.  In fact, like I said in the last installment, if you don’t know anything about parrots, you shouldn’t be in the parrot product business.  I love knowing that the person who designed and made a product for my parrots is a fellow parrot lover.

But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this.  If you are a parrot lover, you know that the spread of avian disease is a huge risk and problem.  I personally believe that it is the responsibility of a parrot lover to ensure that she does all that she can to protect not only her own parrots but also the parrots of others.  This means creating bird products in a separate air space from your own birds and doing all that you can to make sure that there is no cross contamination between your products and your own birds.

Is this system perfect?  Unless you’re changing your clothes and showering every time you go to and from work as well, of course not.  But this is definitely the safer and more prudent thing to do.  The likelihood of bird germs or feather dust remaining on your clothing is far less after you’ve traveled from your home to a different place than it is if you just move from one room to another in your own home (or worse yet, the same room!).  I am always surprised when I see just how many bird store owners don’t even think about this.  I’ve emailed vendors before about where they make their toys and having a bird-free space, and have gotten responses back that these owners not only make them in the same room as their birds, but even let their birds test out the products and play on them prior to sending them out.  It’s really quite scary to me.

Are there any home-based stores that I support?  Yes, actually.  There are a select few that you might have noticed.  But aside from the fact that I am incredibly careful about the products I receive from them– in fact, I actually quarantine a lot of them, and of course do a full disinfection– the home-based stores I choose to support are also incredibly careful themselves.  These are not the kind of people who have a bird on their arm while they’re wielding a saw to make your bird toy (unsafe in two ways!).  But they have their bird toy rooms in a separate part of the home, with carefully closed doors, heavy duty air purifiers, and everything covered in plastic bins.  They are careful to change their own clothes and very aware of the risk of cross contamination.  There is still a level of risk, but it is minimized through certain measures.

Some bird store owners don’t even bother to do that, and that really bothers me.  Like I said, if you are in parrots, you know that the risk of spreading disease is huge, and I feel that it is each parrot owner’s responsibility to decrease this risk.  To knowingly propagate the spread of avian disease is irresponsible, unsafe, and unethical.  Some owners might say that they know that their own birds are healthy– but how can we know really?  No matter what we do to avoid it– great diet, healthy habits, air purifiers, vet checks– our birds can still get sick, and because they are so good at hiding it, we might not notice it right away.  Are you as a shop owner going to cancel all of your recent orders because you just realized your parrot got sick, disappoint all of your customers, and return a lot of cash flow?  Probably not.  Would you even tell your customers if one of your birds was sick and risk hurting the reputation of your business?  Probably not.

I so strongly urge all of us as parrot owners to be more cognizant of where we shop and where the products we purchase are made.  I know that there is a lot of trust on forums or of public figures in the bird industry, but remember, even the “best” bird owner’s birds can get sick from time to time.  Always ask first before you buy, assess the level of risk that you are personally comfortable with, and save yourself potential regret in the future.

Summer Sunbathing

July 19, 2011 § 3 Comments

Everybody has been having a blast getting outside so much lately.  I am a big believer in the benefits of natural sunlight.  Although I think that getting a balanced diet is crucial as is good full spectrum lighting for vision purposes, through my research, I don’t feel that either of these two can provide dependable or completely safe sources of Vitamin D3.  A good friend of mine shared something extremely fascinating to me that her avian veterinarian recently commented to her: that there is a significant difference in the bone density of parrots he sees living in northern, colder climates v. those in sunnier climates.  This reinforces two things for me: first, that we really cannot depend on pellets or full spectrum lighting as sources of Vitamin D3, and second, that natural sunlight is crucial to health (and especially bone development).  During the summer in particular, I really relish the opportunity to get them outside as much as possible– lately the goal has been everyday!

Lola enjoying the sunlight on her feathers

Lola in particular seems to really adore it.  She is a laid back sunbather and will relax and enjoy the warmth of the sun on her feathers.  When she gets warm, she’ll dunk her head in her water bowl and let me know that she’s ready to be sprayed down.  She loves having a good soaking!

Karat gleaming in the natural sunlight

Karat also loves spray showers and was such a ham.  I was rotating between Lola, Karat, and the budgies, and every time I walked away from her with the spray bottle she followed me around in her cage until I came back around to spray her.  She used to hate spray bottles all together so she’s come a long way!

Lola and Karat in their matching carriers

Aren’t they cuties? 🙂  I love getting them outside in the sun.  We’ll be taking advantage of the warm days as much as possible!

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