Wisdom from Avian Veterinarians

By Ann Brooks

Attending the annual Association of Avian Veterinarians conference is one of my greatest joys. While much of what is said involves a language beyond my knowledge base, I always learn something new. Here is a summary of my biggest takeaways from this year’s conference.

Thanks to the Grey Parrot Project initiated by Dr. Scott Echols, there is a growing body of evidence that a lack of exercise, sunlight and appropriate diet are highly detrimental to the long-term health of birds in captivity. These may seem like obvious statements, however proving their relationship to disease is easier said than done.

According to Dr. Echols, “a new technique involving radiographs (X-rays) is allowing researchers a means to clearly visualize bone density in birds. Preliminary evidence shows that birds flying outdoors in natural sunlight have better bone density than those housed indoors in small cages. In the attached pictures, cockatiel 1 has better bone density than cockatiel 2. Using the new imaging technique, one can readily see that cockatiel 1 has more red (indicating higher bone density) in the wing and leg bones.”

Since most birds don’t have the opportunity to fly or vigorously move, their bones start to disintegrate. In order to stay strong, bones need to have some stress. It is terrible to think that our birds are suffering in this regard, so we must find a way to get them moving. (For starters, provide more activities outside the cage, increase foraging opportunities, provide a wide variety of perches to encourage movement, and even offer flight when it can be accomplished safely).

The loss of bone structure is especially problematic for female birds in the “lay” mode. Unfortunately, many people touch their birds in sexually stimulating ways, which may encourage these hormonal responses. The healthiest relationship we can have with our companion birds is one that does not involve an excess of “petting” and mate-like behaviors.

Another common problem is nutrition. So many birds live on a diet of packaged seeds. Not only are these high in Omega 6’s (safflower, peanut, sunflower, corn), but most seed brands have very little nutritional value. Our parrots need more Omega 3’s, which can be found in fish oil, flax, pumpkin seeds, hemp, chia and walnuts. If you use flax oil, make sure to buy a very reputable brand, keep it in the refrigerator, and do not shake. And don’t forget to provide a wide variety of dark orange and green fruits and veggies. Here’s an interesting tidbit, if you have chickens, you can dramatically reduce reproductive cancer by including flaxseed as 10% of their diet.

From Drs Dahlhausen and Orosz, we learned that a very large number of birds are Avian Bornavirus positive (ABV), as many as 45% or more in some studies. If your bird is ABV positive, do not panic! Most of these birds remain healthy for their whole lives. Sometimes birds with ABV also develop PDD, but some birds that develop PDD are not positive for ABV.  So as you can see, it is a complicated issue that requires more research.

Possible PDD symptoms might include difficulty in digestion or problems with the nervous system (e.g. seizures). They usually experience some kind of of stressor that suppresses the immune system or alters its normal function as well. Some of these potential stressors include: concurrent infection with Campylobacter, extreme stress, avian gastric yeast, old age and/or reproductivity.  This is yet another reason why we should not sexually stimulate our birds by excessive petting, especially below the neck.  Just remember if your bird does develop PDD, there are ways to help. And if your bird is ABV positive this does not mean it will develop PDD!!

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Drs Susan Orosz, Robert Dahlhausen and Greg Costanzo

Another major health concern for birds in captivity is atherosclerosis. Countless birds die at a young age from this heart problem. Why?  Again — they don’t get enough exercise and they don’t have good diets. If we are going to have birds in our homes, we must learn to do better by them by providing healthy food and lots of mental & physical activities.

Lastly, there was another foraging study from UC Davis. Orange wing Amazons were fed an oversized pellet, similar to the size of the nut they eat in the wild. This pellet was made specifically for the study to see if the larger size caused eating activity time and manipulation to increase. In the wild, most parrots spend up to 60% of their day foraging. This means they have to find the food, pick the food, and then manipulate the food. In captivity, parrots usually spend 4 to 10% of their day eating.  So if we can make eating more complicated and physically challenging this will give birds more to do with their time and increase physical activity. The UC Davis researcher, Dr. Polley DVM, calls this “podomandibulation” because the Amazons use both their feet and beaks. This increase in activity helped to reduce stress and improve the welfare of the Amazons.

So, we know without a doubt that our companion parrots need and deserve better diets, more complex enrichment and absolutely more exercise!  What have you done for your parrot?

Companion Therapy Laser donated to Phoenix Landing

Dr. Robert Ness, DVM, demonstrating the Companion Therapy Laser

Dr. Ness, DVM, demonstrates proper use of the Class IV Companion Therapy Laser

Sometimes, the words “thank you” do not seem to be enough. This is one of those times.

In April, 2016, Companion Animal Health donated a Class IV Companion Therapy Laser to Phoenix Landing. The laser will be used to help some of the birds at the adoption center and in the Phoenix Landing program who might benefit from laser therapy.

Dr. Robert Ness, DVM, of Ness Exotic Wellness Center in Illinois, presented on the benefits of laser therapy for specific cases at the 2016 Phoenix Landing Wellness Retreat. Dr. Ness gave an overview on the proper use of the laser and safety protocols to Phoenix Landing President, Ann Brooks, and Vice President of Education, Dr. Frank Rutkowski, DVM. Companion Animal Health representative Jennifer Oliverio visited the adoption center in May and provided additional training. Companion Animal Health has also generously donated training from the American Institute of Medical Laser Applications. This training, too, is greatly appreciated!

Jennifer Oliverio, Companion Animal Health representative, with Echo

Echo (right) shows his thanks for the laser to Companion Animal Health representative Jennifer Oliverio by giving her a kiss.

To add to the literature available on the use of laser therapy with companion parrots, Phoenix Landing will work with veterinarians and participate in several case studies. Dr. Ness identified parrots at the adoption facility who were good candidates for case studies. Information collected will be shared via Phoenix Landing’s website, blog, and Facebook page. So, please be on the lookout for these stories!

Phoenix Landing extends a heartfelt thank you to Companion Animal Health for this donation, and to Dr. Robert Ness for his time and guidance. Together, we hope to make the lives of the birds in the program even better!

What Is A Prolapsed Cloaca?

By Debbie Russell, Maryland Adoption Coordinator

A cloacal prolapse is a condition where the inner tissues of the cloaca protrude and fall out of the vent. The cloaca is the end of the digestive track, where the bird excretes urates, feces, urine, genital products and even eggs. Did you know that both male and female birds can prolapse? It’s most common is cockatoos, but any bird could have it happen to them. If you have never seen it before it’s very shocking when you do!

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Kiki, male umbrella cockatoo. Came to Phoenix Landing in 2009. Survived 3 years.

There are many reasons a cloaca is strained to the point of prolapse, but the most common reasons are sexual over-stimulation, holding feces for too long, papillomatosis (a virus), excessive egg laying, and even a bad diet. Most commonly, people touch their birds in inappropriate ways, sending sexual signals to the bird that cannot be completed, leading to chronic mastubatory behavior. Since we are not our bird’s mates, this behavior can cause many physical and behavior problems. It doesn’t mean we cannot enjoy a close bond and companionship with our birds, but we should encourage independent play and activities. Not only will this help prevent some of the physical problems, like prolapse, but it can also help with other problems like dysfunctional screaming or biting.

So what is the best way to touch a bird? Only touching your parrot on the head and feet is the recommended approach. You should never touch them down the back or under the tail. Yes, sometimes we just want to snuggle or “pet” them, and it feels good — but it feels TOO good for your bird and can put them at risk.

Timmy TAG1 prolapse 2009

Once, a prolapse occurs over an extended period, it usually requires invasive surgery. Simply reducing the vent area with sutures rarely works at that point. Surgery is not cheap and there is no guarantee that it will work either. The veterinarian opens the parrot’s abdomen, pulls the cloaca back up, and then attaches it to the parrot’s rib and abdomen wall. This doesn’t always work if the cloaca has lost it’s elasticity or the bird continues to be over-stimulated sexually.

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Rib Tuck Surgery to Address Prolapsed Cloaca

Just this week, Phoenix Landing was asked to help a little male black-capped Caique, Mooshie. This poor bird has been prolapsed for years and it recently got worse. The family could not afford the surgery.  The veterinarian visit and surgery with Stahl Exotic Animal Veterinary Services (SEAVS) was arranged before the bird was picked up, and Dr. Stahl performed the surgery on Tuesday.  Mooshie’s surgery went well, and we are cautiously optimistic!

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Mooshie, Male Caique

Mooshi Prolapse

Mooshie’s Prolapse

Want to help? Make sure you have an appropriate relationship with your bird – which means being a friend not a mate; teach positive behaviors like independent play and foraging; provide a good diet with plenty of calcium and vitamin A rich foods; always provide access to elimination at all times (no potty training!); and make sure your bird has regular visits with a good avian veterinarian. If you’d like to help us with Mooshie’s surgery and continuing care, click here!

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Friends of Wendy Huntbatch Remember Her Life’s Work

Parrots lost one of their staunchest advocates this week, Wendy Huntbatch, founder of the World Parrot Refuge in Canada. She was relentless in her determination to make a difference; and for hundreds of parrots she has been their provider, ally, joy and savior.

Wendy 2008

Emphatic & passionate!

Back in the late 90’s, when I was initially inspired to create an organization for parrots, Wendy was the first to respond to my inquiries and offer to help. She was always positive, encouraging and compassionate. She gave much of her time to me freely, sharing her thoughts and all the lessons she had learned. While we ultimately opted to set up an adoption program for parrots instead of creating a sanctuary, she continued to offer ideas, advice and solid moral support up through her final days.

In 2002, Wendy joined the Phoenix Landing Board of Directors, and we could always count on her for a lively discussion. Did we agree on everything? Of course not, we are all individuals with our own experiences and ideas. Did she do what she thought was best for parrots? Without a doubt, each and every single time!

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Wendy Huntbatch, Stewart Metz and Ann Brooks at the World Parrot Refuge, 2010

Wendy introduced me to some of the most devoted, articulate and solicitous people in the world of parrots, such as Dr. Stewart Metz and Rosemary Low.  I am so grateful to her for including me in her parrot welfare network, making it possible for us to actually move forward in our own work.  I owe her a deep debt of gratitude for her generosity of spirit.

Most importantly, Wendy was a fierce and loyal friend, and I can only hope she knew I felt the same for her. Her absence already feels unbearable – but her spirit, her dedication and her unwavering passion will burn in my heart and work with parrots each and every day.
Ann Brooks, Phoenix Landing



Wendy Huntbatch was a pioneer, starting parrot rescue (1993) before most of us knew there were parrots who needed rescuing. Each one of her parrots was loved as if they were children in her homeWendy in her shop2.png

I was immensely proud to be invited to be a guest speaker (along with Rosemary Low) to the opening of the new facility — I must say that she employed many excellent features such as flight between whole trees, enrichment, even the ability for some parrots to walk through a hole and go outside for a (safe) short walk -and the birds looked great.

Oh, the look on Wendy’s face when she showed off her birds to visitors! Few knew that Wendy suffered from TWO terrible, debilitating illnesses but she never let them stop her crusade to help needy parrots–yes, she was a Crusader and a Lovely Lady at the same time. Will we miss her — YES, very much.  Will the parrots miss her — more than they can ever know.
Stewart Metz, M.D.
Founder and Associate Director, Indonesian Parrot Project
www.indonesian-parrot-project.org



I first met Wendy in 1997. In 2000, on a trip to Costa Rica with her and her husband Horst, I got to know her well and to understand her drive and passion for parrots. I visited her in Canada on three occasions, each time being amazed at her parrot rescue initiatives. Wendy died on February 3 after a long battle against cancer and a debilitating lung disease.

Rosemary Low at WPR 2010

Rosemary Low at WPR in 2010

She was the most remarkable person, totally dedicated to parrots. She lived to give a good life to as many as possible after they had been abandoned by their owners. To see her working with these birds, in the huge aviaries Horst had built for them, was an inspiration. Her strength and bravery during the past five years while tolerating very serious illnesses and treatments were heroic. Her fund-raising efforts to keep the sanctuary running were extraordinary.

Everyone who knew Wendy admired her untiring dedication, her patience and compassion, especially with the special needs birds, and her determination, often in the face of great difficulties. The parrot world has lost a unique and irreplaceable lady. If you want to help to ensure that her work continues, please donate to the sanctuary via the website: www.worldparrotrefuge.org
Rosemary Low
Curator, Author and Lifelong Devoted Parrot Lover

Bites Be Gone! Solutions for a Common and Painful Problem

By Jenny Drummey

Bites are complicated. Sometimes it’s hard to say what’s more painful about a bite from your parrot: the physical pain, or the emotional upheaval and the trust it destroys. The scars that bites leave behind are certainly physical, but they’re psychological and emotional too.

Bite-BitsThe bite has power, its force often shocking. If they’re so unpleasant, and they may eventually cause us to stop interacting with a parrot at all, why do they persist? How can we remove this behavior from our bird’s repertoire? It’s vital that you solve this problem, as it is impossible to build a trusting relationship with your bird if you fear he will bite you.

Start by realizing that bites matter, they have meaning, and they are communication. The question is: Are we listening?

If biting is common in your home, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Biting is a behavior, and like all behavior, it has a function, a reason for happening. The biting behavior persists because it allows the bird access to something he wants or allows him to avoid something he doesn’t want. Bites serve Biting Edinburghnews 2013a purpose to the parrot. Examine what that purpose is, and make changes based on that.

Don’t take bites personally. It’s easier to say than do. But when a bird bites you, think of it as communication only. A bite is like the exclamation mark at the end of the parrot’s sentence “I am uncomfortable with this situation!” Employ methods that remove the possibility of the bite happening in the first place.

Change the way you think about why the bite happens. Have you ever heard that a bird bites because he is “jealous” or “grumpy” or “hormonal”? Have you ever attributed a bite to something that happened last week, or longer (“He bit me because we went on vacation last month”)?

This kind of thinking doesn’t solve the problem, but instead attributes the bite to an unverifiable source, because we can never know what an animal is thinking. To change behavior, don’t focus on what the parrot is feeling, but on what the parrot is doing.

Biting LovebirdsRespect your parrot’s personal space. Let your bird choose to come to you. Present food or a toy at least 6 inches away and let your parrot come to it. If stepping up, allow the bird space to come to you, instead of forcing the behavior by, for example, pressing your hand into the bird’s stomach.

Be flexible. The simplest all-purpose solution when a bird’s body language indicates a chomp is imminent: Walk away and come back again in five minutes.

Learn to recognize common bite triggers:
• An object, person, or situation that causes the bird to exhibit body language that we associate with fear or aggression
• Territoriality around the cage or another location such as a play gym
• Caregiver distraction, which can result in inattention to a bird’s body language
• Unwanted attention (or too much attention)
• Caregiver’s body language

Biting Senegal

Use the Trust Test. A simple and effective tool to evaluate any answer to the problem is to see if it passes the Trust Test. Will the proposed biting solution build or destroy trust?

If it will build trust, the solution is worth a try. If it will destroy trust, forget about it. You know if a solution builds trust if the bird can choose to participate (and is allowed to make that choice!). If the bird is forced to comply with the solution or if you ignore the bird’s reaction, it will likely destroy trust between you.

Offer objects, food or situations that motivate your bird. A bird’s ability to choose the behavior you want her to perform is directly related to your ability to motivate her. The key is knowing what your bird really wants to work for. Offer the bird something of value to her at that moment, and she will choose to perform what you want to get that reward.

In most cases, when you want to change a behavior, you ignore the problem behavior, and reinforce an alternative behavior (using the motivator) instead. You teach the parrot what to do in place of the problem behavior.

Bite-Bits2Keep a biting notebook. Collect the data and evidence you’ll need to understand the problem and to change it. Each time you are bitten, record the details. What can you do differently? The most important thing to do when you get bitten is something other than what you were doing when you got the bite.

Parrots do not crave the same kinds of interactions that dogs and cats do. Petting generally isn’t something parrots desire – or if they do, it’s usually because it is sexually stimulating. We are so hard wired to the pleasures of touch that we have a hard time seeing past this basic fact. Sometimes as we continually offer affection the bird can show frustration and eventually bite.

Be aware that your bird may see you as a predator. Sometimes it’s hard to see how intimidating we are to our birds, but recognize that it is a distinct possibility that you are approaching your bird in a manner that could set up the bite. Don’t interact when you are stressed or hurried. Approach a parrot with slow, confident movements. Talk quietly to the bird.

CHANGE YOUR EXPECTATIONSParrots aren’t children, dogs, cats, or soul mates. Parrots are fascinating, intelligent, wild individuals who we try our best to live with every day. Parrots have evolved to be social creatures, and we are part of their flock. But sometimes we expect our birds to fulfill roles that they cannot, or to behave in ways that are not possible. Having realistic expectations can help you to reduce or eliminate biting, because you won’t be asking your bird to do things that don’t make sense. Consider a bird’s true nature, what he enjoys from interacting with you, and what’s healthy between you.

For more information on biting, see Biting Matters, published by the Phoenix Landing Press.

Molts and Pinfeathers: A New Year for You and Your Bird

The start of a new year: time to make promises to yourself for positive changes in your life. As you sign up for a gym membership or purge Facebook friends, don’t forget your bird. What resolutions can you make to improve your bird’s life in the coming months?

Don’t get overwhelmed. Start small with an achievable goal for the first few months of the new year. Expand your parrot’s  world with new activities and enrichment items in January. Improve your parrot’s diet in February. March is the month to tackle a behavior problem.

January, when your family is stuck inside, is a great time to make a bunch of simple toys. Begin by re-purposing all of those (safe!) boxes that your holiday gifts came in as foraging toys for your bird, then continue toy making throughout the month. Toys are simple and cheap to make, and Kris Porter’s Parrot Enrichment Activity Book available from parrotenrichment.com  is an excellent free resource. The Facebook group The Parrot’s Workshop provides an almost endless supply of simple toys that are easy to make, often with instructions.

Though toys can be based on items you have in the house, you can also purchase bird toy parts online (a recommended site is makeyourownbirdtoys.com). Recruit your kids and their friends or other bird lovers in your area to have a toy making party. Focus on variety for maximum interest. Experiment with different textures, materials, and colors in the same toy. Toys don’t have to look pretty, they just have to be fun!

By increasing the number and variety of enrichment items, whether these be toys, a new play stand, a wicker basket to perch on, or branches made of safe wood, you offer your bird more choices and more opportunities for learning. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination (and what’s safe for your parrot!).

In February, focus on nutrition. Resolve to introduce a new healthy food item to your parrot each week. This could be food packaged  in a new way. Stuff kale leaves into a cored apple and hang it on a skewer, for example. Try serving fruit or vegetables before they are fully ripe. Split a papaya or cantaloupe in half and let your bird pick out the seeds. Use a food processor to finely chop new foods, then mix them in with a little healthy seed. Another option: slice fruit or vegetables thinly, cut a hole in the middle, and string on a toy.

Offer healthy food prepared in different ways. Your bird may prefer cooked, steamed or raw. See the Phoenix Landing cookbook Nourish to Flourish for a wealth of ideas, methods and information.

During this month, note the foods that your bird will fly through hoops for.

Use your parrot’s coveted treats during the month of March when you focus on behavior. Identify one behavior to train. It could be something as simple as training your parrot to target to a stick or teaching your bird to forage. Training is not difficult, so give it a try.  See the Phoenix Landing Press book Project Parrot for detailed information about training and behavior.

Instead of training a behavior, you could focus on resolving a behavior problem. Biting is a common one.

See the book Biting Matters for tools and techniques to reduce or eliminate bites.

Resolving behavior issues is so often about changing our expectations of our wild companions. An excellent resource for understanding how birds perceive the world is Leigh Ann Hartsfield’s book Birds Beyond Words. Once you understand a bird’s nature, it can be easier to resolve an issue by developing realistic solutions. Rosemary Low’s book, Understanding Parrots: Cues from Nature provides wonderful insight from her travels around the globe over decades to observe species in the wild.

These attainable monthly goals can greatly affect your bird’s quality of life, and the relationship between your bird and his flock, which is your family, in the first few months of the new year. Then, why not repeat this three-month cycle throughout the year?

Use the comments field to share your birdie resolutions!

Adoptable Bird Pairs

Birds will often make friends with other birds. When the relationship is safe (they don’t hurt each other), and they aren’t mating, we like to see them enjoy their lives together. After all, having someone else in your family that looks, thinks and acts like you can be comforting and entertaining. Can you imagine being the only human?

Here are just a few of our bird pairs/friends looking for their next good home through Phoenix Landing. While they certainly enjoy and benefit from each other’s company, they can enjoy a human family’s time and attention too. Since people cannot mate with parrots, and we shouldn’t over-snuggle, stroke or pet them anyway, having two birds that keep each other good company makes for a healthier and happier household for everyone.

Here are a few of our current adoptable pairs, and there are several others of various species waiting for our help.

TORI and GABRIELLE are nanday conures. Their age is unknown but they’ve been together at least seven years. They are dedicated companions, snuggling every night. During the day, Tori is pleased to fly around and spend time exploring. Gabrielle always stays on or in the cage, and has a more cautious nature. Tori will land on your shoulder if you’re a trusted person, but Gabrielle prefers her personal space. We think they’re adorable, especially their little red ankles.

Tori Gabrielle

QUORK, a scarlet macaw, and BETSY, a military macaw, came from a rather horrid place many years ago. Their ages are unknown. They were not companions then but now they are cage mates and best buddies. Their past was left behind long ago and all that matters to them now is that they have places to go and things to do, keeping them mentally and physically active. They are terrific eaters of a wide variety of healthy foods. Quork will chatter upon occasion, and knows his name. He likes to have his tongue touched at bedtime. GIZMO is a 24 year old blue and gold macaw that likes to hang out with Quork and Betsy, and these three go together to an outside aviary almost every day. Macaws are so enchanting. Just watching their antics is usually more than satisfying.

GizmoQuorkBetsy

PIP SQUEEK, a 14 year old sun conure, and SWEET PEA, an 18 year old nanday conure, are a charming pair. They very much appreciate their human family too, especially Pip. She’s the first to come out and seek family interaction and easily hops up hoping for a walk about the house and an adventure. Pea is a bit more of a homebody, but he adores Pip. You may wonder why Pip is so bald. We wonder too. The feather follicles have long gone, and she’s been tested for every possible medical problem.  Her medical workups are always excellent.  She is just unique!

Pip and Pea

OLLIE, an 8 year old blue and gold macaw and LAYLA an 11 year old scarlet macaw are entertaining to say the least. They have been together for almost 8 years. Ollie is a boisterous, happy and clever macaw. He loves to trick train and even knows when to say “good!” Layla is very attached to Ollie and doesn’t like for him to be out of sight. They will often bicker, or maybe they are just having a significant discussion, but they love a bit of drama. We’re glad they have each other to keep life engaging for both.

Ollie and Layla on Atom

ESSIE is a 17 year old greenwing macaw and URSIE is an 18 year old blue and gold macaw. These two would fit best into a home where they are allowed lots of time outside the cage. They love sitting on a tree stand, and especially enjoy looking out the window. They entertain and take care of each other while you enjoy and admire their beautiful parrot dynamics. They relish their Harrison’s pellets and most any fresh fruits and vegetables. Ursie and Essie especially love almonds and walnuts in the shell. Like many birds, they are not very interested in being touched, but that’s OK.

Ursie and Essie

If you’re fascinated by birds and interested in adopting a pair, please go to our web site at phoenixlanding.org where you can learn more about our adoption and education program.   And don’t forget, birds don’t have to be bonded pairs like the ones listed here to enjoy simply having another bird in the family!