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.

unnamed

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:

unnamed 2

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.

 

Are Instant Pots safe to use in homes with parrots? A volunteer wrote the company to find out

Are Instant Pots safe to use in homes with parrots? A volunteer wrote the company to find out

From Michelle Underhill

Instant Pots have become very popular. While most meals made in them aren’t really “instant,” they do save time!

Do Instant Pots include PTFE? Thankfully, no!

Parrot near an Instant Pot

Instant Pot reports that they are PTFE-free! As with any appliance, do not allow parrots near them when in use.

It is widely known that polytetrafluoroethylene is not only hazardous to birds, but deadly. With polytetrafluoroethylene (a.k.a. non-stick coating, or PTFE) being found on many cooking and other products, including pots, pans, toaster ovens, humidifiers, light bulbs, and even in stain guard on carpet, furniture, and more, I was curious as to whether it might be included in Instant Pots.

I wrote the company to find out. I heard back from them very quickly! I am happy to learn that Instant Pots do not include PTFE on them anywhere. And, I have since successfully made several meals in an Instant Pot with my five parrots safely in an adjoining room.

The next step may be identifying time-saving recipes we can make to feed healthy foods to our parrots using the Instant Pot.

Read the full letter from Instant Pot

I have included the full text of the email I received from Instant Pot, in case you are interested in learning more about the components out of which they are made.

My favorite line in the letter, of course, is “We respect parrot safety, too!”

Hello Michelle,

That’s a great question, thank you for contacting us.

Instant Pot’s number one focus is consumer safety, and we aspire to inspire the highest level of consumer confidence with the Instant Pot product line. We respect parrot safety, too!

The inner pot and inside portion of the lid is comprised of 18/8, food grade 304 stainless steel, compliant to FDA standards. There is a washable, non-toxic wax-compound polish on the inner pot, for sparkle. The material of the base of the inner pot has 3 layers: 304 stainless steel, aluminum, 304 stainless steel. The inner pot is made of what’s called “austenitic” steel, which is not magnetic, as opposed to magnetic stainless steel which is called “ferritic”. This is fairly typical in stainless steel kitchen appliances.

The float valve and the exhaust valve are made from aluminum. These parts have passed FDA food standard tests, and do not come into contact with food.

The inner side of the cooker base is made from a type 201 stainless steel. This metal is highly rust resistant, though not rust-proof.

The heat resistant paint on the cooker base is made of epoxy resin, and alkyd resin/polyester resin. This paint is resistant to heat, but not general wear and tear.

The heating element is also coated with a chemical compound that has been tested for high heat processes. The coating is 2011/65/EU compliant.

  • It contains 415 mg/kg of lead which is below the max 1000 mg/kg specified in 2011/65/EU.
  • It contains 3 mg/kg of cadmium which is below max 100 mg/kg specified in 2011/65/EU.
  • Mercury is not found in the material.
  • It does not contain Cr(VI)

There is no Teflon used in the making of the Instant Pot.

The plastics are all BPA-free.

If you should have any further questions, comments, or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out again.

Kind regards,
Amy

Amy C.
Instant Pot Technician
Instant Pot Company,
http://instantpot.com/

The Blue and Gold Macaws of Trinidad

By John Kerns

In January 2018, a group of scientists, government officials and conservation representatives gathered in Trinidad to talk about parrots. This included those blue and golds trying to rebound in the wild, as well as the macaws now living in homes as pets. Since having captive parrots is still a bit controversial, there aren’t many resources for people to learn about how to care for them. Trinidad macaws

Bernadette Plair, who determined that wild macaws would not go extinct in Trinidad on her watch, decided that helping people to care for any parrots in their homes was equally important. Thus, Bernadette and her colleagues set out to provide an educational opportunity, and Phoenix Landing was asked to participate in this laudable endeavor.

I spent the first couple of days meeting with Forestry officials, game wardens, and conservation representatives. We talked about the needs of captive birds, including those confiscated and permanently living in cages at the Wildlife Section. Our goal was to provide officials with additional information they can share with local residents about caring for pet birds, and also use for those macaws living in government facilities. The need for enrichment, showers, good food, behavior knowledge, and medical support are relatively new topics for Trinidad residents.

Trinidad ForestryFor the last four days of my visit, we hosted parrot care classes for Trinidad residents and veterinary office staff. Well over 130 people attended! Although there is still some confusion about very old laws regarding parrots kept in homes, there is definitely a desire by the local people to acquire more information about how to care for their birds. We applaud their determination to make sure their companion birds thrive! We also hope that Bernadette Plair and her colleagues will continue to be successful in sustaining and growing the wild macaw population on Trinidad as well. They are working hard to inspire and educate the public about this conservation effort. We are so impressed with their success so far!

Trinidad classOn the last day we visited the Nariva Swamp to observe macaws that had been reintroduced into their native habitat. It was very fulfilling to see them flying free, but also sadly poignant knowing that the macaws in our homes will never fly free nor ever speak their native language.

On March 3rd, 2018 in Springfield VA, our guest speaker will be Dr. Leo Douglas, immediate past president of BirdsCaribbean. He will share more information with us about the parrots of Trinidad, as well as other areas in the Caribbean. We certainly hope you can join us!

Peg’s Second Chance

How an Eclectus with an amputated foot brought a hopeful end to the year
Peg Eclectus2
“An 18-week old female Eclectus was brought in today…” the veterinarian from SEAVS in Fairfax, VA said, as we spoke on the phone. “The bird’s right foot needs to be amputated and the owners did not want to pay for the surgery.”

The vet needed to find an experienced person who could care for the as-yet-unnamed female Eclectus. Someone needed to help post-surgery to medicate her and bring her back multiple times for follow-ups. Additionally, she needed to be weaned. An Eclectus should wean in no longer than 6 months. At four and a half months, this little one needed to transition to solid food.

The vet needed to find someone quickly, as her dead foot needed to be removed.  Could Phoenix Landing take her on?  Of course.

But who could take on the care of this very young, special needs parrot? Debbie, our MD adoption coordinator, stepped up to help.

First, the bird needed to survive the surgery. “We will try to leave as much of her leg as possible,” the vet assured me.

How did this happen to such a young bird? Caretaker neglect. A towel was wrapped around her leg and it was not removed for at least two weeks. Though many birds play with towels, or shred them when nesty, towels are not good toys. We have known birds who have ingested tiny bits of indigestible fabric, to the point where their digestive system was impacted and they died. Please be careful if you give your parrot a towel to play with, and always supervise.

About an hour later, the vet called and said the surgery was successful. They would care for her overnight, but the most important thing now was that she eat.

“She can’t leave until we know she is eating. We had to tube feed her.” We would talk the next day to see how she was doing.

Peg Eclectus

Peg, post-surgery at Debbie’s house, and now eating a wide variety of healthy foods!

The vet advised how to set up a cage for her. Her cage should be short, with lots of padding on the bottom. She would do well with flat perches. “She will probably adjust well to the missing foot, as she is so young,” the vet said. An Eclectus can live to be 40 years old.

It amazes me how resilient parrots are. This one was exceptional. Imagine the pain and fear this poor bird suffered in its short life. How could she ever trust humans? Native to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Autstralia, in the wild she would have already fledged (at 11 weeks). She would be foraging for fruits in the tops of rain forest trees. When she reaches sexual maturity between 2 and 3 years, her behavior will change drastically. She would be the queen of a harem of friendly males, a relationship described by academics as cooperative polyandry. She would sit in a hole in a tree for up to 11 months of the year, while males brought her food and helped her create and care for her clutches of 2 eggs. But instead of this life, she is in captivity, now missing a foot, and her future is uncertain.  But we will do the best we can by her. As often quoted from The Little Prince, “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

The next day brought good news: the little one was walking, and was not messing with her bandages. She did not need a collar. Additionally, she was eating a little. She would be ready to go that evening.

Peg Eclectus3

But what should we call her? Debbie said, “Peg!” Debbie then made the 2 hour round trip journey to pick her up, and Peg is on the road to recovery.  She will need to stay on medications and have several bandage changes before we can look for her adopting home.  Stay tuned for an update!