It’s Cherry Season! Cherries are wonderful for parrots

by Ann Brooks

Cherries have many positive health benefits. They lower total cholesterol, are anti-inflammatory,  contain antioxidants, and are a natural source of melatonin.

As we learned from Dr. Rhoda Stevenson, DVM Diplomate ABVP-Avian during our recent Wellness Retreat, cherries are also a superstar healthy food for birds. Dr. Stevenson owns the Exotic Bird Hospital in Jacksonville, FL and gave us an informative talk about holistic supplements in avian practice.

Birds with poor kidney function often test high for uric acid. At some point, high uric acid can lead to gout, which is a very serious problem for parrots. Cherries can help to decrease uric acid and manage gout.

Having regular labwork can help your bird stay ahead of this problem, although sometimes the disease has seriously progressed before uric acid is noted. So maintaining a healthy diet is the key!

One of the main causes of kidney problems for birds is a seed-based diet. Please make sure your parrot enjoys a wholesome fresh veggie, fruit, legume, and grain diet, with access to plenty of fresh water and a quality pellet. Providing fresh foods takes more time and resources, but feeding cheap, unhealthy seeds to your bird will only cause ill health, high vet bills, and probable early death.

Here is Bertie enjoying her cherries and she likes to roll the cherry seed in her beak for awhile. We are not aware of cherry seeds being a problem for birds, they know how to discard them after a bit of fun!

A Space for Parakeets: Creating an Enriched Environment for Small Birds

by Tricia McManus

I never planned on adopting birds, until a cute little parakeet appeared in my backyard about five years ago. Since then I’ve become enamored with these small birds. In my desire to set up a good environment, I read a lot of books, took courses from Phoenix Landing, found ideas on the Internet, and sought advice from my vet.

Parakeet on top of a cage in a bird room with lots of enrichmentCages and perches – encourage exercise

Based on my vet’s advice, I chose double flight cages to provide plenty of room for exercise, including keeping a clear path for flight from end to end.  Perches of different materials, textures and thicknesses are provided for interest and foot health, including lots of different types of natural branches, rope, ladders, wood and metal platforms, along with a few wood dowels and concrete/pumice perches.  Rope perches are used on the outside of the cage and at the door entrances to make it easy for the birds to get in and out, and to provide additional places to play or hang out.  I like the ropes, because they can be configured in many ways, and the plastic end caps are safe inside the cage.  Long ladders can also be used between the floor and the cage doors if your bird spends time on the floor.

Two blue parakeets are seen in a room - on a cage. In the room there are playstands and perches. There are also toys, swings, perches and tents on the shelving in the room for the birds.Toys – Projects to keep birds active and busy    

Toys are the fun part!  There are an incredible variety of toys available to keep our birds busy and active and give them choices.   Swinging and moving toys and perches provide variety and help with balance.  I look for a variety of material types, such as balsa wood, yucca or mahogany for chewing, different types of straw and vines, leather, bells and rattles, paper shreds, cardboard, plastic, and non-pill fleece.  The ends of paper cord often used for toy-making are also great chewing material.  One area for caution is bells.  Parakeets love them but some bells have heavy clappers that can contain lead.  If the clapper does not appear to be made from the same material as the bell, you might want to replace it with a plastic toy link.

Parakeets inside their cages, with ladders, toys, many different perches of different materials.Multiple places for food, water, light, and privacy (when needed)

My cages are set up to have multiple food and water areas to give every bird an opportunity in the event one bird becomes protective of the dishes.  Full spectrum daylight lamps are used during daylight hours, along with a UVA/UVB bird lamp for short intervals each day.  Each cage also has a few quiet resting areas that are shaded and hidden from view.  In setting up the cages, I also considered that each half of the cage could function independently with everything needed and varied experiences for one bird, in the event the divider needs to be inserted to separate the birds.

Evaluating and setting up the space: Safety, flexibility, and more

Parakeet room with hanging ladders and perches visibleThe first consideration is to evaluate your space and think about how the room will function, including identifying potential hazards.  I put decals on the windows and installed Venetian blinds to provide a buffer for potential crashes.  I also removed carpets and used furniture that’s easy to wipe clean.  I keep paper towels and a spray bottle with water handy for clean-up, along with a small broom & dustpan and a covered trash can.  If you notice a particular out-of-cage location where your bird spends time, placing paper towels or newspaper below that spot makes clean up easier.

My intent for the room was to provide lots of choices for flight and exercise, along with additional variety in experiences from what could be provided inside the cage.  Ideally, the birds would explore and use the entire room.  Moveable tables with play stands allow the room configuration to be changed.  A large dogwood tree branch was potted to provide views out the window, and spray oats or millet is sometimes clipped to it to encourage foraging.  Untreated baskets provide perches and play stations along the walls.  Hanging perches and ladders provide opportunities for swinging and movement.  A stud finder was used to locate structural ceiling joists, and eye bolts were installed to hang the toys.

Parakeet room - Playstands in view

Parakeet out in his playroom. Different play areas well in viewThe room and cages are evolving all the time as I continue to learn and come across new ideas and examples.  You will learn your bird’s preferences and what works best for you!

Lights, sideways basket on the wall, hanging toys, and more

Pumpkins for Parrots!

by Ann Brooks

Why pumpkin?

Phoenix Pumpkin
Birds require vitamin A, and many are deficient because of an inadequate diet. One of the best sources for vitamin A are foods rich in beta carotene. These are generally the dark orange, red, and green vegetables and fruits. So this is the perfect time of year to take advantage of current crops of scrumptious pumpkins and winter squashes. Not only are these beta carotene rich, but they also make a quick foraging activity.

Ways to serve pumpkin to parrots

Simply putting half a pie pumpkin or squash on a skewer, or in a bowl, can give a bird fun and exercise activity at the same time.  No need to remove the seeds! Just wash thoroughly prior to feeding, and buy organic if possible. You can leave cut pumpkins and squash out for 2-3 days, making for several days of fun!

What other foods are rich in Vitamin A?

Papillae

Pumpkin with chia hemp etc

1/2 pumpkin with chia, hemp, and almonds

Other vitamin A sources include carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, papaya (including seeds), cantaloupe (seeds especially good for macaws), leafy greens, apricots, and mango. If your bird is eating a packaged seed diet, it’s possible they are vitamin A deficient. A seed diet also leads to obesity! Try to convert your bird to a whole foods and pellet diet for long-term health.

Why is Vitamin A important for birds?

Birds with vitamin A deficiencies can have dull feathers,   and many other symptoms. Your avian veterinarian will check the papilliae in the roof of your bird’s mouth during their annual exams. Pointed papillae are a sign of good vitamin A health. Make sure your bird has the opportunity to enjoy these nutrient dense foods!

6 tips to help keep birds calm during fireworks or thunderstorms

by Michelle Underhill

Django_flagSome birds have no problem with thunderstorms or fireworks, and may even enjoy watching them. Others shake, hide, or, worse yet, bolt off or thrash. If you have one or more birds who are the latter, rather than the former, here are a few tips that might help calm your birds during Fourth of July fireworks or thunderstorms.

Tip 1: Keep them inside

If the July 4th neighborhood parties are in full swing, and firecrackers or fireworks are predicted, keep your bird inside. Even if they usually enjoy being in front of the window, make sure at least half of their cage or playstand is against a wall instead of glass, so they can move away from any scary sights. Of course, being inside and away from windows is important during a thunderstorm, too.

Tip 2: Make sure they have a place to hide if they choose to

In addition to having a place away from windows, put a large toy on their playstand or in their cage that they can go behind, and look out from, if they feel threatened. If your bird is fearful of new toys, add it in advance of storm season or a holiday with fireworks, to give them a chance to get used to it. Another option is to put a cover over part, but not all, of their cage, so they can go behind it if they choose to. Being able to choose whether they can hide or look around may help.

Tip 3: Be calm yourself, and present

We cannot always be home with our birds, but if you are home while neighborhood fireworks, or a thunderstorm, are happening, be in the same room with the bird who is anxious around loud noises, and do something calmly. It’s okay to talk to them quietly about the noises. This is a great time to read, perhaps even aloud to them! Or, to listen to music or watch a TV show together.

Tip 4: If away, leave some music on

If you are away when fireworks are scheduled or a thunderstorm is predicted, you may want to leave the radio on for your bird, or a white noise machine. If your bird has musical preferences, try leaving something on that they enjoy. This may help to give them something else to focus on.

Tip 5: Try a calming supplement

There are several supplements I have used to help calm nervous animals during thunderstorms or fireworks. As with anything, check with your veterinarian if you have questions or concerns about using them with your birds. Bach’s Rescue Remedy is available at stores like Whole Foods, as well as at some good pet supply stores. The pet and children’s versions of Rescue Remedy do not contain alcohol in them, so are safer for pets. (Sometimes the children’s version is less expensive than the pet one.) I have also used Animal Essentials’ Tranquility Blend with birds. It does contain Valerian, so may make some birds sleepy. Many online retailers (Amazon, Chewy, etc.) sell these, too.

Adding dried chamomile and/or lavender flowers to food, or brewing some chamomile tea and serving it room temperature, may also be helpful. Always make sure fresh water is also available to the bird if serving tea. During thunderstorm season, I have at times left some room temperature chamomile tea that includes a few drops of Rescue Remedy in it in a bird’s cage who gets stressed by noisy thunderstorms while I am away at work.

Tip 6: Reward calm behavior during loud noises, storms, or fireworks

Especially if you already use positive reinforcement training with your birds, rewarding calm behavior in your birds during a thunderstorm or fireworks is a great way to assist them with remaining calm during such times. I start ahead of the storm or predicted fireworks by giving treats for doing everyday, normal behaviors. This means telling the bird s/he is good and rewarding with a tiny treat or attention (whatever the reinforcer might be) for eating, preening, playing with toys, sitting with fluffed, relaxed feathers, etc. You can continue rewarding calm behavior during the thunderstorm. Of course, never punish a bird for not being calm. Simply reward them if they are calm.

What are your tips for keeping birds calm during fireworks or thunderstorms?

If your birds aren’t concerned by fireworks or storms – wonderful! If you have had birds who are, and have found additional tips to help them, please share them in the comments.

We wish you a safe, happy, wonderful 4th of July!

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!