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!

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!

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/

Easy sweet potato biscuits for parrots

A local avian veterinarian recommended that I get one of my parrots to eat sweet potato and brown rice, as they would be good for his digestive system. This simple sweet potato biscuit recipe is a result of my quest to find an easy way to get him to do just that. So far, it has been a hit with my flock!

Ingredients:

1 15 ounce can of organic sweet potato puree
2 c. brown rice flour
1 egg
Tumeric, ginger, and cinnamon to taste
Sesame, chia, and flax seeds

Optional ingredients:

Chopped cranberries (I used freeze fried, but fresh or frozen may also work)
Walnuts
Other herbs and spices (I added a little crushed dehydrated dandelion)

Directions:

Mix tumeric, ginger, cinnamon and additional, optional dried herbs together with the brown rice flour. Add egg. Mix in sweet potato puree. Add any additional optional ingredients (chopped cranberries and/or walnuts).

Place sesame, chia, and flax seeds on a plate. Form dough into small balls, flatten, and dip both sides of the flat biscuit dough piece in seed mixture.

Bake at 350 F on lightly greased baking sheet for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned.

Let them cool completely before serving. Divide into batches that will last several days and freeze those you won’t use within a few days. After you finish a batch, just pull the next from the freezer, thaw, and serve!

Introducing a new bird to the flock: A success story with a bumpy start

Many people interested in adopting a bird may already have one or more parrots. That was certainly the case for us. My husband fell in love with a Meyer’s parrot named Virgil during a visit to the Phoenix Landing adoption center in Asheville, NC. We already had two Pionus parrots and a Senegal, and the flock hadn’t grown since 2006. We were nervous about introducing a new bird to our existing flock, but decided to foster Virgil and give it a try.

Plan A: Our “no plan” first plan was a mistake

After the quarantine period, we started introducing Virgil to the flock. We made a few mistakes. We decided to simply bring him to the living room with another flock member to see what happened. This might work for some birds, but it did not work in this instance. During our first two attempts to introduce Virgil to another bird, he flew directly to the other bird and tried to land on them. The other birds were not keen on this at all, and flew out of the room.

We recognized that this particular approach was not working. So, we took a step backwards and developed a plan to introduce them more slowly, breaking down the process into smaller steps.

Defining our goals: What behaviors did we want to encourage?

We discussed what our ultimate goal was, behavior-wise, for the birds. The three birds we already had were able to socialize in the living room with us in the evenings peacefully. They explored separate play stands or stood on one of our knees, played with toys, and preened. We decided our goal was to have Virgil engage in similar behaviors in the living room at the same time. We wanted to reward him for remaining on a play stand or person, playing with toys, preening, or interacting with us. The behavior we did not want to encourage was him flying to the other birds.

To clip or not to clip

Clipping wings is a controversial topic among parrot owners, but we decided to clip Virgil’s wings during this transition period to slow him down if he decided to fly to another bird. We felt it would help in creating a history of positive experiences with him for the other birds, and we wanted all birds involved to have just that – positive experiences.

Plan B, Step 1: Introductions and treats

Virgil is inside his cage, receiving treats. Two other birds stand by, waiting their turn.

Virgil receives treats from inside his cage while two of the other birds wait their turn.

Now that we had our final goal established, we decided a good step toward that was to reward Virgil and the other birds for simply seeing one another and remaining calm. We decided that “calm” in this instance meant standing where they were, and not moving to get closer to or further away from one another. Body language would also be important.

For the first step, we wanted Virgil to sit on a perch inside his cage with his door closed while the other birds were in the room nearby. I had the other birds perch on me as I sat in front of Virgil’s cage. This went very smoothly. Every night for an entire week, I spent time sitting in front of Virgil’s cage with each of the other birds (sometimes two at a time), giving him a treat, and giving them a treat for simply being around one another and looking in one another’s direction. If there was any lunging, they would not get a treat. I never once had to deny them a treat, as everyone remained calm and focused on earning those treats.

Plan B, Step 2: Gradually increasing time together in the living room

For the next step, we wanted to Virgil to be in the same room with the birds for a very short period of time. Our plan was to reward them being in the same room and remaining calm for just a few seconds, and then gradually increase the amount of time they were in the same room. Virgil was brought into the room on the hand of his preferred person (my husband) while the other three birds were out. Everyone stayed where they were, and they all received a treat for doing so. Virgil was then removed from the room. He was brought back again a few minutes later. Everyone remained calm and stayed where they were, so they all received treats again. Because everyone continued to remain calm, we were able to quickly increase the amount of time he was out in the room with everyone else, rewarding all the birds every few minutes with treats for perching, preening, playing with a toy, or doing any of our desired behaviors. If anyone started to shift their weight forward, pull their feathers tight, or flutter their wings to signify that they were interested in flying to Virgil, or if Virgil signified he was interested in flying to another bird, no treats were delivered to that bird. Once their attention was redirected towards a toy or person again, they were rewarded with treats. We expected it to take a week or more to be able to have all the birds in the same room at the same time for as long as an hour. It actually only took us a weekend before we could have them out in the same room for an hour.

Success!

Virgil stands, relaxed, near two other flock members.

Virgil (far right) is now able to stand on one foot, relaxed, while two of the other flock members are near.

A few months have passed, and we are still able to have all birds out in the living room in the evening at the same time. Treats are always kept nearby, as we continue to reward them periodically for the desired behaviors of playing with toys, interacting with us, or being near one another in a positive manner. We want these behaviors to continue, so we continue to reward them. This series of steps worked for us nicely. We recognize that it may not work for everyone, as behavior is always a study of one. However, developing and implementing our Plan B resulted in the successful introduction of Virgil to the rest of the flock. I hope sharing what worked for us, as well as what didn’t, might help someone else create a plan that will help them successfully introduce a new bird to their flock.

Others have also had positive experiences introducing new flock members. What worked for you? Please feel free to share tips that worked for your flock in a comment or on the Phoenix Landing Yahoo Group, especially if you used positive reinforcement.