Top Notch Stainless Steel Toys

March 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

You know how I feel about stainless steel… can’t get enough of it!  But with the demise of Grey Feather Toys, an old favorite of ours, it’s been difficult to find other companies that make great clangy, noisy toys with 100% stainless steel (and of course, ones that allow for customization, since we’re not big fans of plastics either).  That void was filled when Avian Stainless opened up shop.  Actually, I shouldn’t say that they “filled a void” left by GFT– they carved their entirely own, unique space into the market. They’re not new anymore, and I’ve mentioned them on the blog before, but I don’t think I’ve taken the chance to talk about how much I love their toys just yet. Owned by the some wonderful people behind Avian Organics, one of my most trusted brands of healthy, organic parrot food, they put the same thought into each toy as they do their food products. Like their foods, these toys are truly top of the line. Not only are they hand-crafted by a professional welder himself, but they are only made with the best quality stainless steel in totally innovative designs that put safety first. This is clear in their awesome, awesome toys.

the crosswinds toy

I recently placed a small order for one toy each for Lola and Sabrina. Lucky Lola girl got this beautiful toy, the Crosswinds, with the a few custom tweaks of no plastics and full welding. This is an awesome toy.  First, it’s totally fun for Lola: there are four noisy bells for her to clang and ring and bang, which she gets a kick out of, but more than that, it’s built with safety in mind.  The two crossbars are welded together which are in turn welded to the upright bar.

notice the welded eye at the top

What’s more, even the eye at the top– where a quick link can be threaded– is fully welded to the toy.  For a bird like Lola who can easily ply open most o-rings, this is such a crucial detail, and it’s so great that Avian Stainless does this!  Also notice the thin, cylindrical rods above each bell.  These rods cover up the stainless steel chain from which each bell hangs.  I love this feature, which Avian Stainless was the very first on the market to design and implement.  They keep little nails or the tips of beaks from the chance of being caught in the chain, plus they add even more noisy fun.  It’s so smart because some owners don’t like to use chain for safety reasons, but need something more substantial than rope, that will stand up to big beak for a long time.  The addition of these rods slipped over the chain makes these toys both safe as well as built to last.

the puzzle bell

Little Sabrina got this adorable toy, the Puzzle Bell.  It’s a single bell, more fit for a smaller parrot, but it has the addition of a beautifully shined and designed puzzle piece as its clapper.  I have no idea how they get their puzzle pieces to shine like this!  There are these really cool, pretty designs on the surface of the puzzle piece that reflect light in all different directions and truly make it sparkle.  It makes a very pretty noise.  Of course, the chain is also covered by Avian Stainless’s signature rods, which is important for a little one like Sabrina who tends to have long little nails that can easily get caught in things.

the square dance toy

Like I said, I only ordered the girls one toy each… but Avian Stainless very generously included even more for us!  We are very, very lucky to be one of the first recipients of the Square Dance toy as testers.  (I’m posting a bit late!) Wow, I can’t say enough of this toy!  It’s a big one, but it’s not so big that it overwhelms Lola.  Even though the overall size is large, the bells are the same size as the ones on both the Crosswinds and the Puzzle Bell above, so it’s not too big for her to be able to play with or manipulate.  But boy does it make a lot of noise!  It’s a very neat, complex toy with square cross barsfor the added fun of tugging each bell on its opposing sides.  There are even added washers for more noise and fun.  Lola was a little nervous around it for about a day but has since warmed up to it once she realized what a racket she could make with it!

a foot toy skewer!

lola looks on suspiciously…

Finally, we got one last wonderful surprise, which was one of the refillable foot toy skewers that Avian Stainless was testing out a short while back.  These are really, really neat: they’re stainless steel shovels with stainless steel balls at the end that can be unscrewed, turning them into skewers!  They’re great foot toys for medium to larger parrots.  They ultimately decided to go with non-removable balls at the ends of the skewers for safety reasons, but I was the lucky recipient of this test design, strictly for out-of-cage, supervised play only.  As you can see, Lola is very suspicious of hers and is sure that it is an alien, but I’ll report back when she begins to think otherwise.

Thanks to Avian Stainless for these wonderful, high quality toys and especially for letting us test some of them out for you.  We highly recommend these toys!  (On a related note, as always, none of the reviews on my blog are solicited in any way nor do I receive compensation for them.)

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More on Expandable Habitats Cages

May 29, 2012 § 1 Comment

Yes, we’re alive and well!  Hello all, and my apologies for not having written.  We’ve been exceedingly busy but hope to have some more free time in the summer months.

Yet another of life’s turns has required that I dismantle both the budgies’ and Lola’s Expandable Habitats cages this week, quite a nuisance and tough job for one (very petite) person to do solo.  But while taking these behemoths apart, I discovered one more reason why these cages are such fantastic investments and came to love them even more than I already did.  I am lucky that I can’t call any of my birds very mechanical– Lola can tackle some moderately difficult foraging toys, but she’s never been able to unscrew something or open her cage doors on her own.  It’s truly one of my fears that she’ll learn to start taking apart her cage, and one day, while I’m not home, she’ll remove one too many screws and the whole thing will collapse on her.  That’s probably irrational– it seems that even the most mechanical birds are more interesting in escaping their cages than dismantling them– but it’s still a possibility.

Well, I was very pleasantly surprised while taking apart the Expandable Habitats cage that those things simply don’t collapse!  Every single panel that I unscrewed stood completely straight up until the very last screw was removed– I could have removed seven out of the eight screws holding it up and it was still standing tall without collapsing in on itself.  Even when I had removed three out of the four “walls,” the fourth still stood until its very last screw was removed.  I was really amazed at how sturdy every single piece was.  I’ve taken apart several other kinds of cages before, and none were built so sturdily or so well as this.  It was really remarkable and made me feel a lot better about the prospect of Lola developing any mechanical skills.  I still hope she doesn’t, but at least I know that if she does, the cage will never collapse in on her and harm her.

In other news, the flock is still enjoying diffusing our essential oils!  I get a lot of comments and questions about these and I do try to answer all of them so feel free to keep them coming.  I did want to disclose that I recently discovered that I do, in fact, receive a “commission” for those of you who use my Referral Number in registering with Young Living and then purchase products.  I didn’t realize this prior to receiving a random check in the mail — only then did I understand what was going on, so I apologize if anybody feels misled.  That said, I am absolutely not in it for the money and it doesn’t matter to me whether you register under my number or not; I am simply interested in sharing my experience with essential oils and spreading knowledge.  If you register under me, great!  If you don’t, great!  Feel free to ask me questions either way.

Using Safe Plastics with Food

March 20, 2012 § 10 Comments

I tend to go into detail in my entries about why I purchase the products I do purchase, but there are, obviously, a myriad of parrot products I do not purchase.  There are, in fact, a lot more products that I won’t purchase than products I will, and I am very frequently asked what I think about certain products if I have yet to write about them on the blog.  Why don’t I make these types of questions and answers public?  It is not my intention at all to discredit or defame any vendor publicly, and I’m not trying to put anyone out of business; rather, I’m trying to do just the opposite: showcase those vendors who I think are creating top notch, unique, safe, and enriching products.  I also know that many people do not quite share all of my same standards or paranoias about food, toys, or toy parts, so just because something isn’t right for Charles, Lola, or Sabrina doesn’t mean it won’t be right for somebody else’s flock.

There are, however, a few things that I’m a big believer in: shopping bird-free, for example, is a big concern of mine, as is using stainless steel.  Another concern of mine is using safe plastics, in particular with food-related products or foraging toys.  I get this question extremely often, and I figured that it was worth addressing publicly, because safe plastics don’t fall under any one brand but rather are simply one of the many materials used in bird toys by almost every company.

Whether or not you feel comfortable giving your birds plastic toys is very often an individual owner’s decision, and definitely requires knowing your bird.  I know that Lola, for example, has way too strong a beak to be able to play with plastics safely, and she tends to harbor little pieces of plastic in her mouth for long periods of time.  Thus, plastics are a complete NO for her, unless they are very large pieces of extremely hard plastic beads (like marbella beads) that she absolutely cannot chip or destroy.  But generally, I simply say no plastic toys for her.  On the other hand, both Charles and Sabrina can play with plastic beads in a completely safe way.  They can beak and beat and batter them and never chip them even a little, so plastic beads are completely fine as toy parts for them.

But there is a different consideration that I would argue should be ruled out for every bird owner, whether or not your parrot can play with plastics safely.  This consideration is using unsafe plastics in food service applications.  Unlike plastic beads or toy parts whose safety can vary depending on bird size, power, and style of play, using unsafe plastics in food service applications is dangerous for all birds, regardless of size, strength, or habits.

As we all know, there are many, many different types of plastic, and I’m sure most of you are used to looking at the bottom of a plastic dish or tupperware to see if it is microwave safe or not.  Well, this relates to safe and unsafe plastics.  More recently, I’ll bet, you became aware of a substance called Bisphenol A, or BPA, in plastic water bottles or baby bottles.  Nowadays, it’s pretty much impossible to sell a water bottle that contains BPA, because consumers have realized that BPA is a chemical that is present in many plastics, that leaches into water after repeated use and washing.  Some countries have labeled it a toxic chemical, and scientific studies show links between BPA and hormone-like properties, cancer, thyroid problems, neurological problems, obesity, and other scary problems.  Plastics that contain BPA, such as polycarbonate, should not be used in water bottles or food service applications, especially with hot food or water, as these leach the chemical at a more rapid rate.

Most people purchasing new water bottles or baby bottles know this, but what about bird food and water dishes?  If you use plastic dishes, have you checked to make sure that they are indeed BPA-free?  Probably even more common are plastic foraging toys, which are hugely popular.  But every time you put food in one of those cool plastic foraging toys, and especially the more you wash it, it breaks down the plastic and more and more BPA is leached out onto the food, which is then consumed by your bird.

I’m well aware that many people will think to themselves, “Oh, but I’ve been using those for ages, and my birds are perfectly fine!”  Well, many generations of human babies were also raised on bottles made with BPA, and obviously we don’t have an entire generation of people who passed away without explanation.  But we do have studies that show that BPA can lower fertility rates and cause neurological problems in children, among other negative effects.  It can even manipulate hormones and cause issues with reproductive behaviors.  Your bird won’t drop dead from BPA, but he or she might be extra hormonal, or suffer neurological consequences.

The good news is, there are safe alternatives!  One of the safest plastics for use with food is acrylic.  But don’t be fooled: polycarbonate and acrylic are two very different plastics, even though they look virtually the same.  In fact, I’ve seen many bird toy websites that mislabel toys as acrylic when they are actually polycarbonate.  Polycarbonate is a huge source of BPA, whereas acrylic is completely BPA-free.  MOST foraging toys on market are actually made of polycarbonate, but there are a select few that are made from acrylic.  Don’t necessarily go by what it says on any website: if you are unsure, call the company and ask if their toys are made from polycarbonate or acrylic.  There is a vast difference.

an acrylic (not polycarbonate) foraging toy

This toy, for example, is a set of acrylic foraging drawers.  I am sure you have seen many polycarbonate models on the market, but this is the only acrylic version that I’ve been able to find.  It is made in house at Parrot Island Inc. and is a great toy that I highly recommend.  They actually make many different setups as well: two drawers, four drawers, six drawers, drawers that pull out front to back, drawers that pull out side to side, etc.  These toys are more expensive than the more common polycarbonate versions because acrylic is a higher quality plastic, plus these are made at a much lower volume.  But, they are worth every penny in terms of safety.

another acrylic foraging toy

Here’s another acrylic foraging toy that exists on the market, this one by Grey Feather Toys.  It comes in two sizes, 2.5″ or 4.5″, the larger 4.5″ model shown above next to Lola.  I feel completely safe using these acrylic foraging toys: not only is it extremely strong like polycarbonate, but it is far safer and contains absolutely no BPA that will leach into your parrots’ food or water.

There are definitely other acrylic toys out there on the market, but be sure to do your research, and do not assume that anything is acrylic.  Polycarbonate and acrylic look very much the same, so ask the manufacturer if you are unsure.  In a similar vein, double check any plastic food or water dishes you use with your birds, as well as water bottles.  You do not want this chemical interrupting any of your parrots bodily functions or systems.  (Glass, on the other hand, is completely BPA-free.)

Although there is much more to say about safe plastics in general or other unsafe plastics (don’t even get me started on soft vinyl), this is one of the most important issues with plastics that I have, and I hope that I can spread awareness about BPA in plastics.  There are so many great alternatives out there now that there is no reason to use plastics that contain BPA in food or water bowls or foraging toys.

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!

An Ethical and Safe Bird Store Policy, Part Three

January 20, 2012 § 3 Comments

This entry is the third and final 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 on materials used and types of products sold, click here.  To read part two on the prevention of the spread of avian disease, click here.

The third aspect of my policy is ethics in terms of integrity and business practicesTo be honest, I’m a little bit surprised and disappointed that I even have to write about this topic.  A year or two ago, it probably wouldn’t have gotten its own entry.  But more and more I see unscrupulous business practices happening, and there are many types.

But what is integrity?  It can be defined as a firm adherence to a code of moral or artistic values.  I think that both moral and artistic play a role when it comes to being a bird store owner.  There are things that should be done simply on a moral ground and there are things that should be done out of respect for another’s artistic license and intellectual property.

I’ll begin with the moral side.  A lot of what I discussed in parts one and two, in fact, fall under this moral category.  A store that has a sense of moral integrity is a store that makes a commitment to selling only safe products and selling them in a bird-safe way, minimizing the risk of spreading avian diseases.

Since I’ve already discussed those ideas in full, I will move on to the artistic side of integrity.  One of the most common violations I see lately is in terms of intellectual property and copycat products and toys.  If you read this blog, you know that I (and so many other bird owners) really prize original, unique, and innovative products, especially in a market where so many toy designs are just more of the same.  I love vendors that take pride in their work and dedicate themselves to creating very unique and personal products, inspired by their own flocks, their job or life experiences, or even their own natural surroundings and geographic location.  Thus, it is so disappointing to me when I see vendors deliberately copying each other’s toys.

With a lot of bird toys, there is only so much that you can call your “own,” and I understand that.  Can you really claim that you came up with the idea of stringing certain toy parts on a certain type of rope?  Probably not.  It’s easy to think of several toys from several vendors that all look quite similar.  But I think that there can be very clear violations.  If a vendor has a particular “style” or a particular toy that is extremely unique on the market, and it is something hand made, that’s when it saddens me to see that vendors do not have the integrity not to steal another person’s designs.  So many wonderful vendors are hobby-based toymakers who really pour themselves into making bird toys not for profit, but rather for a genuine love of birds.  And to me, it is easy to tell which vendors these are based on the wonderfully unique and innovative designs they create: there is so much joy and livelihood and personality in each and every single toy.  To steal or to copy another’s unique toy creation is to steal the very joy, livelihood, and personality that is imbued in each design.

Personally, I always choose to support the original creators of each toy design out of respect for their intellectual property and creativity, and out of a sense of integrity.  I hope that others will support creativity and innovation, and choose to do the same as well.

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.

An Ethical and Safe Bird Store Policy, Part One

December 4, 2011 § 6 Comments

Having an ethical and safe bird store policy has been on my mind quite a bit lately.  This is something that is ever-present on my mind, and is one of the most important things to me as a bird owner.  I’m sure that if you own a parrot, you’ve at one point or another lamented some of the terrible products on the market: sandpaper perch covers, obviously unsafe toys, zinc-plated metals, pellets or foods loaded with sugar and other artificial ingredients.  Why do these products still exist?  Well, one aspect of it is definitely ignorance, because there are plenty of people who simply don’t know that these can be unsafe and harmful.  But a second reason is because we as consumers so often allow companies to get away with producing and selling these, and even indirectly support these practices by buying other products that they sell.

That’s where the ethical and safe bird store policy comes into play.  If you’re a regular reader, you might have noticed that there seem to be a select few stores that I support, and a heck of a lot of stores that I do not.  You might wonder why: well, there’s a good reason.  Every once in a rare while it might be simply that they don’t carry anything I’m interested in, but more often than not, it’s because they break one of my rules of having an ethical and safe bird store policy.  I get a ton of emails and messages regularly from people asking me if I know anything about X company or if there is a reason why I haven’t shopped there, and the answers are always very easy for me when I think about the three aspects of my policy: first, safety and ethics in terms of materials used and types of products; second, safety in terms of spreading avian diseases; and third, ethics in terms of business practices.  I’ll elaborate on each one in a short, three part series, this being the first part.

The first one, which is probably the one that most people think of and probably already are aware of, is safety and ethics in terms of materials used and types of products.  This one’s a no-brainer: if a store sells an unsafe product, I won’t shop there.  Your first reaction might be, “But Coco, you have a different idea of unsafe than the rest of us; yours is pretty extreme!”  Sure, that’s true– I don’t even use nickel-plated metals with my birds– but I don’t expect every store to do that.  I’m aware that there is a difference between what is generally considered safe v. what I feel comfortable offering my flock in particular.  Rather, I’m looking for stores that are at least aware of the fact that zinc-plated metals are poisonous to birds, and go out of their way to find toys or hardware that use nickel, chrome, or stainless steel.

Similarly, I won’t shop at a store that sells sandpaper perch covers, period.  I’ve written to stores that do before, expressing my disappointment.  The responses are always a bit of a shock.  One of them said, basically, that they were well aware that these were dangerous products, but that they made them a lot of money and therefore they wouldn’t stop selling them.  Despicable.  Immediately crossed that store off my list.  Another response I’ve gotten (and have gotten in relation to other items too, such as a budgie cage being marketed for a large macaw) was that they simply had no idea that they were dangerous because they didn’t know anything about parrots.  Well, if you don’t know anything about parrots, what in the world are you doing in the parrot product business?

Some people have the attitude that it’s okay to shop at stores that carry unsafe products, as long as they are not purchasing those products in particular.  I’m definitely on the more extreme side, but for me, this isn’t acceptable either.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: we vote with our dollars.  Every dollar that we spend sends out a message: “Great store!  I support you!  Keep doing what you are doing!”  You might not be purchasing the unsafe products in particular, but you are still supporting a company that sells unsafe products.  This is one of the many reasons why cage shopping is such a nightmare for me.  Even though there are some companies who do actually make pretty decent cages design-wise that I would purchase, some of their other models on their product lines are downright unsafe, and I won’t support that.

You might say that it’s easy for me to say that we vote with our dollars because I don’t have a shortage of them.  To that, I have a few responses.  First, I’m a private school teacher, meaning that I make less than the average public school teacher, who most people agree are already severely underpaid.  So no, I don’t have money coming out of the wazoo, but I am simply very frugal with what I spend and try to make my dollars count.  Second, buying better products doesn’t always have to mean more expensive products.  There are a ton of great products out there that are also very inexpensive.  Sure, there are a lot of really expensive ones too, but those are luxuries and not necessities.  Perhaps the one great exception to this is caging, but the nice thing about cages is that if you buy them right, the should last forever.  Third, spending a little bit more for a better product now is an investment in your bird’s health and future.  Yes, that toy with the galvanized wire is probably much less expensive than the one with stainless steel, but the vet appointment and treatment you’ll have to pay for when your bird gets heavy metal poisoning will far outweigh the cost of the stainless steel toy, I promise you that.

I hope that this entry and the next few in the series get people thinking about where they shop and the safety of those products– all of the products, not only the ones that they purchase.  In the next installation, I will write about safety in terms of spreading avian diseases.

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