Vacation planning and companion parrots

by Michelle Underhill

Trent River, New Bern, North Carolina

Trent River, New Bern, North Carolina

Summer is a popular time to take a vacation. For those of us with parrots and other pets, several questions always come to mind concerning what to do with the pets during that upcoming, well-anticipated vacation. Some people are lucky enough to have a bird-savvy friend with whom they can entrust their bird’s care. Not all of us are so lucky, though. If that is the case for you, here are a few other available options.

Option 1: Board your parrot(s)

Some veterinary clinics will board your birds while you are away. This provides additional peace of mind for many, knowing that their bird is already in a great place in case the bird gets sick. Check with your veterinary clinic to see if they offer this service and what the pricing may be. If they do not offer boarding, they may be able to refer you to a reputable place that does. Be sure to also check on what days you can drop off and pick up your bird. Some clinics that offer boarding have staff come in to care for birds every day of the week, but only allow you to pick up animals after you return from your trip during normal business hours.

Check out the boarding space

Don’t be afraid to ask to see the space a clinic or other boarding service has available for birds. If multiple species are boarded in the same facility, I always like to check to make sure that the “prey” animals, like parrots, are kept out of eyesight of any predatory animals like dogs, cats, ferrets, or snakes, primarily for the comfort of the animals themselves.

Pro tip: Book your parrot’s stay as far in advance as you can, especially if you are traveling over a popular holiday. Places that board birds can fill up, and you want to make sure there is room for your feathered friend.

Option 2: Have a pet sitter come to your home to care for your bird(s)

You may want to hire a professional pet sitter to come to your house one or more times a day to care for your birds. This is an option I’ve used in the past, and have had someone come to care for my animals twice a day. An added benefit of going this route is that many pet sitters will bring in mail, water plants, turn lights on and off, and open and close shades for your animals. This can make the house look more lived in while you are away. You generally pay a fee per visit, and if you have multiple animals, additional fees may apply. For a set price, some professional pet sitters will also stay overnight in your home to make sure your animals are okay, if desired.

How to find an in-home pet sitter

Recommendations for pet sitters from other bird owners in your area or from your veterinary clinic may be helpful. If that isn’t an option, the Association of Professional Pet Sitters has a directory of pet sitters on their website at petsitters.org. You can search it by location, and by the types of animals with which the pet sitter has experience. It is important to email the pet sitter in advance to make sure they care for birds, even if their profile indicates they do. I have contacted some in the past who included birds in their profile because they might feed a finch or parakeet every now and then for a client who also has dogs or cats, but they weren’t comfortable taking on a client who had several parrots. It is important to ask what experience they have caring for birds, to make sure they know what signs to look for if an issue arises.

Pro tip: Even if you don’t have a trip in the works, but think a professional pet sitter is the right option for you, go ahead and identify one you’d like to use and go through the initial new client visit with them. That way, you are established with them and are ready when you do have an upcoming trip! Also, book your pet sitter well in advance if you think you might be going away for holidays like Thanksgiving, as their schedule may . fill up during certain times of the year, too.

Option 3: Bring your bird(s) with you on vacation

Three parrots with their travel cages

Three parrots, their travel cabins, and portable travel table.

When we adopted a fifth parrot, we purchased a vehicle with a third row for when we take “family” vacations. Just as we like a change of scenery from time to time, some birds like to have one, too. Some pet friendly hotels are happy to have them stay with you. It is important to call the hotel in advance to make sure. I’ve also found that some owner-managed pet friendly vacation rentals through VRBO or AirBnB are also happy to have you bring your birds as long as you ask, and tell them about the birds, in advance. My parrots (and bunnies) have traveled with me to the mountains and to the coast this way.

I’ve also heard several people bring their parrots camping with them! It can be done.

Additional packing tips if bringing your birds on vacation with you

Bringing pets on vacation does take advanced planning, even after you find a hotel or rental house willing to have them come with you. Sometimes I feel I pack more items for them than for us.

Travel cage (aka travel cabin) for your bird

If your bird is going to spend be spending time in their travel cage while you go to a museum or out to dinner, then you want one your bird is comfortable in. Some will bring a large cage to set up in the vacation home, which is wonderful if you can do it! My travel cages also have to serve as my birds’ vacation cabins. If this is the case for you, too, travel cages with bars rather than ones that are primarily plastic are better options. I also bring lightweight, aluminum, telescoping folding tables, to ensure I have a surface on which to place their travel cages. I bring rope perches to put on top of their travel cages so the cages can double as a play stand. I also bring extra toys for them to destroy, to keep those beaks busy.

Bringing bird safe cleaners or cookware

Packing a bird safe cleaner is important, to clean up after the birds. And, if I am going to prepare meals in a vacation rental, I pack my aluminum baking sheet, stainless steel frying pan, and a stainless steel pot, in case all the cookware provided in the rental house is non-stick, and thus harmful to birds. So, packing a few cookware items may also be important. Of course, you’ll want to bring any pellets or treats that your birds eat, too, if they may not be readily available in nearby stores.

Checking a vacation rental for possible dangers upon arrival

When we arrive at a pet-friendly vacation rental, the first thing my husband and I do is have one of us go inside to look for, and smell for, things that could be hazardous to the birds. The other person remains in the car with the birds while this happens. If there are any plug-in air fresheners, etc. in use, we unplug them, leave them unplugged, and put them in a place far away from where we will have the birds. We only plug them back in once the birds are out of the house and we are ready to leave. If ceiling fans are left on in the house, we often turn them off and make sure we familiarize ourselves with the location of the switch that controls the fan to prevent any bird flight accidents.

Enjoy your trip!

By planning for your birds and other animals in advance, and ensuring they are cared for, you’ll no doubt enjoy you vacation even more! Safe travels, and have fun!

From feather plucker to re-feathered: A success story

Birdie, before re-feathering. Photo by Kevin Blaylock

Birdie, before re-feathering. Photo by Kevin Blaylock

Feather picking is a common problem in companion parrots, and causes great angst for many people who live with birds who do. The cause of feather picking often remains a mystery to bird owners, veterinarians, and behaviorists, though medical care, foraging and enrichment opportunities, and nutritious foods are often provided in an attempt to eliminate or at least curtail feather destructive behavior.

Cause or causes?

Often, we try to identify ONE cause of feather picking. As bird owners, we sometimes think if we identify a single cause and “fix” it, all will be well for our bird. What if there isn’t one single cause? What if there are several different causes that lead some birds to pick their feathers?

The road to fully feathered

Evet Loewen, who adopted a caique named Birdie from Phoenix Landing who engaged in feather destructive behavior in 2017, set out on a journey to help her. What did Loewen do that helped Birdie? She took multiple approaches simultaneously, and the result is a healthier, happier, and fully feathered Birdie! Birdie’s care and treatment included establishing a daily routine that included safe time outside for access to full spectrum sunlight, a variety of healthy foods that were supplemented with Buriti oil (which contains vitamins E, C, and A, essential fatty acids, and carotenoids), medical care and treatment by a knowledgeable veterinarian, enrichment, and a social life for Birdie.

Read more about the multi-prong approach that helped Birdie

Loewen wrote an excellent article in the December 2018 issue of World Parrot Trust’s PsittaScene, to share exactly what Birdie’s routine, medical care, food, enrichment, and social life looked like. You may download and read the entire article at https://issuu.com/worldparrottrust/docs/birdie-refeathering-success-story.

Thumb name of the article in PsittaScene

Click to read or download the full article from World Parrot Trust’s Winter 2018 issue of PsittaScene.

Feather picking may have many causes simultaneously

Loewen’s conclusion is that there wasn’t just one cause of Birdie’s feather picking behavior. There were several. She includes tips in her article for others facing feather destructive behavior in their own birds. It is a must read for all those who experience the ups and downs of living with a bird who exhibits feather destructive behavior.

Tips for Living with a Special Needs Bird

by Dawn Grace

Special needs Quaker parakeet hanging out with cockatooIs it more work to live with a special needs bird? Not necessarily!

Living with a parrot is challenging, no doubt about it.  So, does that mean that living with a handicapped parrot is more difficult?  Not necessarily!  The basics still apply – ample cage space, good nutrition, proper avian vet care, environmental enrichment and safety.  With a few adjustments, you can help your bird live fully with its disability.

My experience with a special needs bird

My experience has involved 18 years living with a doubly handicapped Quaker.  He came to me with a missing foot.  Many years into our journey, he also managed to fall, which resulted in losing his sight in one eye.  Since his foot had been that way since birth or nearly so, it didn’t slow him down at all.  Birds use their beaks as an appendage for many activities anyway!  He did, however, go through a period after the blindness where he was less active.  I watched him carefully to see how I could help.  Approaching him from the sighted eye was an easy adjustment for me, and gave him more security.

Thinking outside the box concerning housing and enrichment

For a disabled bird, you may have to think outside of what is recommended for cages, play stands, or enrichment.  For example, if a bird is blind, has arthritis, or is missing a limb, work with your veterinarian to consider what an optimal environment looks like concerning cage size, shape, and placement. What modifications cane be made for your bird to feel and be safe? Sometimes, special perches, like corner perches, can be easier for special needs birds to stand on.  In some cases, a bird who is very challenged with mobility might do better in a space with enrichment and perching opportunities that are low in the cage, to prevent falls.

Observing your bird in the cage helps.  Can he get around the toys without difficulty?  Are there enough perches, in various widths and types, to allow access to the bowls (ideally there are three bowls – water, pellets, and fresh food)?  Parrots in general like to hunt (forage) for their food.  That is what they would do naturally in the wild.  However, foraging might look a little different depending on your bird.  Start easy and small – a tasty item covered with a thin tissue for example.  It might be that a handicapped parrot wants its environment simple.  Making this decision, as with all the choices suggested here, is one that is best chosen by you, as you spend time watching your companion (and keeping in contact with your vet too!).

Flight may be especially important

Another option to consider with handicapped birds is the opportunity to fly.  As with any parrot, you should always be aware of the environment. Our homes have many dangerous opportunities for a bird, including but not limited to other pets, open water (toilets, tubs, pans), ceiling fans, hot stoves, fireplaces, windows, and doors. My birds have their own room with a door that can be shut, keeping them safe from kitchen, bathroom, and other dangers.  If the Quaker falls in the bird room, he can more easily fly to the ground without hurting himself. To allow a bird flight is a very individual decision.  Again, checking with your vet first to weigh the pros and cons is essential.

Special needs Quaker parakeet eatingNutrition and food

Nutrition remains the same for the disabled bird, with one possible exception.  A beak injury may require syringe feeding or a mash diet, instead of more whole foods.  Please do your best to offer a healthy varied diet, including pellets, seeds & nuts in moderation, and plenty of veggies, fruit, whole grains and omega 3 sources (including but not limited to flax seed, chia seed and walnuts).

Veterinary visits

A yearly visit to your avian vet applies to full bodied and disabled parrots equally.  Baseline blood work can help you help your bird through all the transitions of life.  Additionally, this visit can alert you to possible deficiencies in your bird’s diet.

The most important thing to remember in caring for your bird (handicapped or otherwise) –please give him or her plenty of loving attention, with intention.

This Christmas tree is for the birds (and other pets)

Maximillian's pionus investigating the cardboard parrot Christmas tree

by Michelle Underhill

Are you looking for an enrichment idea to include your parrots in the holiday festivities? Why not set them up with their very own, 100% parrot-friendly, chewable, destructible Christmas tree? If you are crafty, or have a laser cutting machine at home that can cut cardboard, you could design and make your own tree base! If you aren’t crafty (like me), or simply pressed for time, Cardboard Safari sells a cardboard tree base.

This idea works for other animals, too, including rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, and more. My tree is actually shared by my parrots and house rabbits. They all enjoy chewing, and enjoy chewing on a lot of the same materials.

The cardboard tree

Cardboard Safari has a cardboard tree called the Alpine tree available. It comes in two sizes. The “large” is 22″ wide and 22″ tall. The “giant” is 42″ tall, and 42″ wide at its widest point. I wanted one that would hold a lot of toys for my five parrots and two house rabbits, so I went with the giant size.

If you are making a tree

I have now owned two different models of cardboard Christmas trees. The first one was from Form by Heidi, but doesn’t appear to be manufactured any longer. The tree bases have a few things in common that I am happy to share, for those of you crafty enough to make your own.

The first tree I had, by Form by Heidi, has six identical panels that make up the trunk and branches. The Cardboard Safari tree has five identical panels to make up the trunk and branches. In both cases, they have three circular anchors with slots. The five or six panels all connect to the circular anchors. Cardboard Safari has a cardboard base the panels fit into as well, for added support.

Setting up the tree

The Cardboard Safari tree can be assembled in minutes. It’s very simple, and fun to put together. It honestly took me longer to find and clear a good spot for the tree than it took to put the tree together.

If you have kids, or family visiting from out of town, setting up a tree for the pets is a wonderful bonding activity! I enlisted the assistance of my Dad and my nephew in putting the tree together on Thanksgiving.

Brown necked parrot under the cardboard Christmas treeOptional: Decorating the tree with toys!

You could leave the tree undecorated, and it’d still be a fun piece of decor, and can serve as a great cardboard toy itself. Or, you can add even more interest to it for the birds by decorating it with toys!

Like the tree itself, you can either make or purchase toys to decorate your tree. I have no doubt there are lots of crafty parrot owners who could make some beautiful garlands, toy decorations, and foraging opportunities for their parrot Christmas trees!

I simply went through Phoenix Landing’s Helping Parrots online store and bought toys to hang on the tree. They even have some Christmas themed toys!

Tips on decorating the tree

Try to keep the tree balanced. So, if you are hanging a slightly heavy, wood block toy on one side, try to balance it out on the other, too, so the tree doesn’t lean slightly.

Supervised play time for the parrots (or other pets)

My birds enjoy checking out the tree. It’s intriguing, perhaps, to see so many toys they can destroy in one place!

Please keep in mind that the tree is completely destructible, though, too. So, do not leave them unattended with it. Otherwise, it may very quickly become structurally unsound if you have a bird (or rabbit) who loves to chew cardboard.

Enjoy the fun and beauty of the tree through the holiday season!

Is a Parrot the Right Pet for Your Child?

Parrots are loud, messy and fun, probably a lot like your kids! As an adoption coordinator, I have been placing parrots for over ten years. A parrot could be an excellent companion for a child, or could be another abandoned hobby. Consider these characteristics of parrots as you decide whether a parrot is a good option for your family.

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Parrots are loud. A bird’s volume and tone can annoy some people. Be sure you know what the species sounds like before you bring the bird home. If your family needs quiet time – for napping, for example – birds may not be a good fit for you, as they can make noise at any point during the day, and can be especially noisy at dawn and dusk. I would never recommend placing a bird in a home with a newborn.

Birds are messy. Thrown food, toy parts, feathers and feather dust are only of the few things you will contend with. Cage papers should be changed daily. Do you kids pick up after themselves? Will they be willing to pick up after a parrot?

They can bite and don’t often like to be handled. Birds are prey animals and as such are on high alert for perceived threats. I often get asked for a friendly, interactive bird who can be held or touched. Despite the charming photos you may see on the internet, parrots don’t do well if they are touched a lot. In fact, they can overly bond to one person, and not want to interact with – or may even attack – everyone else. Caretakers need a good understanding of body language and a willingness to leave a bird alone when he doesn’t want to be touched. How do your children play? Are they rough with other animals in the house? Birds are fragile creatures, and will not do well if they are grabbed, poked at, or played with roughly. Little fingers can slip between cage bars easily when you aren’t looking as well – another bite risk.

Parrots can live a long time. If the whole family is on board and willing to care for the bird, you will go a long way towards having a successful placement. However, if your kids lose interest in things quickly, and if you, as parents, aren’t willing to assume responsibility for them, a parrot may not be a good match.

Caring for parrots takes time. Between activities and school, do your kids have time to provide the daily care needed? Can they do the cleaning, feeding, providing enrichment and spending time together required – or are they over scheduled as it is?

Birds need to get out of the cage. Can you provide a safe environment and allow out of cage time daily?

Birds need lots to do. Intelligent and busy, parrots need enrichment in the form of toys, a cage with multiple perches, and out of cage perches and play gyms to keep those big brains occupied.

Birds can fly away. Do your kids forget to close the door? We have had numerous bird fly away, never to be seen again, because of this.

Other pets can hurt or kill them. Can your kids keep dogs and cats away from a parrot? It only takes a second for an animal’s prey drive to kick in, ending in heartbreaking results.

Birds thrive in homes where the whole family is committed to providing care,where kids are old enough to understand when and when not to interact. Safe and fun interactions can include:

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Playing games. Parrots love to throw, toss and drop objects, some will even fetch!

Singing and dancing. Many birds love music and respond to it happily, especially when humans get loud and silly. It’s a great way to encourage exercise for all involved.

Making toys with cheap items around the house. Kris Porter’s Parrot Enrichment and Activity book  is a free download with lots of great ideas.

Training. Teaching birds to target, turn around, flap on cue or fly to a perch can be a great way for your child to learn how to develop trust with a parrot. Training is clear communication, and rewards can be delivered on a spoon or dropped in a cup as trainers and learners gain confidence.

Learning about birds in the wild. Encouraging your child to understand that parrots are very few generations removed from their native habitats can lead to an interest in conservation, ecology, biology, and veterinary studies.

Cooking together. Parrots need a wide variety of healthy food to thrive. Your child may wish to try new foods that you make for your bird, and we have lots of great recipies in the Nourish to Flourish cookbook.

At Phoenix Landing, we provide you with information based on having placed over 2900 birds in homes, If you are still unsure if a parrot is the right choice, please send us an email, or complete an application to foster a bird at no cost to you other than food. If it does not work out, we take the bird back.

False Clues: Qball’s Story

Why was my quaker parrot Qball falling down?

qball3

In 2010, Qball was 7 years old, and full of himself. When I yelled at my computer in frustration, Qball yelled “That’s a bad dog!” along with me. He played with toys and hung out on my shoulder. He masturbated, then laughed hysterically. He helped me carve pumpkins, ate his fresh food with gusto, and had a huge vocabulary. He was the best little guy.

But now, something was very wrong. The first time it happened, it was night time, Qball dropped to the floor and one of his legs hung limply. After five minutes, he regained use of the leg, but seemed dazed.

I rushed him to the vet the next day.

When you have a sick bird, your world is clouded with worry, and you want to figure out what’s wrong. I have an excellent vet, and I hoped it wasn’t as serious as it seemed. We did the standard tests, and while his weight was low, he was a small quaker. We were unable to find an immediate reason for what the vet explained to me were likely seizures. I was heartbroken.

aball.jpg

“We could do a Avina Bornavirus test,” the vet said.

I knew what that meant – or at least I thought I did. They wanted to see if Qball had PDD.

At the time, the association between ABV and PDD was confusing – and it still is. The way I understood it, it was likely that he might develop the disease if he had the virus. So when I got the results from the vet that he was positive, I even texted friends that Qball had PDD and was going to die. My wise friends corrected me: the disease was not always the direct result of the virus. Birds had died of PDD that did not test positive for Bornavirus. Birds who had Bornavirus never developed the disease.

Still we assumed that the problems were related to ABV. The seizures were neurological – a classic symptom. We treated Qball with Celebrex, and I hoped for the best. He was on it for most of 2010, but the seizures kept coming. And he was not gaining weight, and was still having trouble breathing..

I brought him back to the vet in October, because he was having more frequent bouts of breathlessness. So we decided to do an x-ray. We hadn’t done one prior to this, assuming that his symptoms were neurological and related to ABV. When the vet showed me the X-ray, it was clear: Qball had terrible atherosclerosis. His aorta was calcified and he didn’t have long to live. What we thought were seizures could well be associated with this build up of plaque in his body, and cardiovascular disease can be associated with leg weakness and ataxia.

What we had assumed was a neurological problem because of the relation to ABV was actually cardiovascular – and had we known this, the course of treatment might have been very different. Qball died 6 weeks later.

qaball2

I share this sad story in the hopes that if you get an ABV+ diagnosis you will consider it as only one piece of data, and not a definitive diagnosis of disease. I have no idea if Qball’s heart problems could have been treated if caught earlier. Perhaps not. But getting the correct diagnosis late in the game did not help.

PDD vs. Avian Bornavirus, A Layman’s Interpretation

PDD digestionOver the years, some birds have died from a dreaded disease called PDD, or proventricular dilatation disease. It was first noticed in macaws that could not properly digest their food. In some other species, like greys and cockatoos, it caused neurological problems. It is a mysterious disease that we do not thoroughly understand. It is still not completely explainable. And anything inexplicable can leave us feeling concerned, afraid, and even irrational at times.

What some researchers thought in 2010: ABV = PDD
In 2010, a major research project declared that the cause of PDD was the avian bornavirus (ABV). It said ABV = PDD. That’s a very declarative statement! So, at last we thought we knew the answer and could finally cope with the perplexing PDD challenge, saving our birds from future harm. Unfortunately, this “answer” caused many bird owners and veterinarians to rush to judgment, even euthanizing birds that tested positive for ABV.

What some researchers think now: ABV does not always, or even often, mean PDD
Now we have come to learn that many birds are ABV positive, and most never succumb to PDD. Then there are those birds that die of PDD, confirmed on necropsy, but they are ABV negative. What are we to think? What are we to do? Yes, ABV can be an important component in causing PDD, but an ABV positive bird is not automatically doomed to contract PDD, and in most cases they do not.

How might ABV be spread?
Some veterinarians believe that birds are born with ABV, passing it through the egg; or that birds possibly acquire ABV through the exchange of fluids during mating. Sounds kind of like HIV, right?  ABV and HIV are both auto-immune diseases.

As a person who strives to make sure that birds have a succession of good homes, here is my concern — do we need to worry about ABV positive birds? It is my personal opinion that we do not – assuming that the bird is otherwise healthy and thriving. We have asked many veterinarians this question over the years, and most agree that an otherwise healthy bird can be re-homed without reservation.

Tips to promote overall health for our birds, and prevent disease
Avian bornavirus, like many other disease challenges in our environment, can certainly place extra stress on a bird. If a bird is sick for unknown reasons, testing for ABV might be a valuable piece of diagnostic knowledge. However, there are other things we can do to prevent many diseases, and in my opinion, these are equally important!

6432 cage for grey

An environment that can contribute to physical and mental health. Used with permission from naturalinspirationsparrotcages.com

  • We can make sure the quality-of-life we provide parrots in captivity includes ample space to move, explore, and exercise.
  • We can provide access to nutritious food and not crappy seed from the big box store.
  • terrible cage.png

    Does NOT lead to good health

    We can make sure our bird sees a true avian veterinarian on a regular basis – and receives the labs and gram stains that help give us early information about disease.

  • And we can learn how to live with a parrot without expectations of inappropriate touching, over-stressing environments, or unnecessary insecurities.

Support more ABV and PDD research
Meanwhile, we whole-heartedly applaud the continued efforts of the veterinary and scientific community to research both diseases; to understand more definitively what their connections might be; and to encourage balance and reason about both potential problems with their clients. Birds do not need to die when they are not truly suffering from a disease, so let’s be careful not to overreact.

You can learn more about both PDD and avian bornavirus from Dr. Susan Orosz, PhD, DVM, DABVP (Avian), DECZM (Avian) here: https://lafeber.com/pet-birds/unraveling-the-puzzle-of-avian-bornavirus-pdd/ and here http://www.birdandexotics.com/medical-news.pml

Stay tuned for our next blog post about a bird that was diagnosed and presumed sick because of avian bornavirus, and as a consequence its heart disease diagnosis was totally missed!  by Ann Brooks

Radiograph image source

Last, Robert, Herbert Weissenböck, Nora Nedorost, & H.L. Shivaprasad. “Avian bornavirus genotype 4 recovered from naturally infected psittacine birds with proventricular dilatation disease in South Africa.” Journal of the South African Veterinary Association [Online], 83.1 (2012): 4 pages. Web. 24 Aug. 2018.