BIRDIE-WALKS: An Essential Part of Your Parrot’s Mental Health

By Suzanne and Larry Cromwell

Have you ever wondered how you could provide a high place in your home or in your aviary for your birds?

We have a high “birdie walk” in our Florida home. Our pair of Timneh greys are constantly either walking on it, resting on it, or climbing up and down from it. They love it and even need it. We knew before we left our home in Hobe Sound, Florida for our summer house in Milbridge, Maine, that one serious problem was going to be the lack of a birdie walk there. We have a high ceiling in our newly constructed bird room in Maine but had nothing for our Timneh greys to roost on higher than their cages. The result was not pretty. Our almost 54-year-old wild-caught, former breeder pair, mostly just moped in their cage for the first couple of weeks until we were able to construct a suitable substitute for their beloved high roost back home.

We all know that attaching to walls usually results in wall damage. And if you can’t or don’t want to hang something from the ceiling, what are your options? We knew it would have to be free-standing and sturdy.

With a great deal of help from one of the construction crew members, who built our bird room addition, we have come up with a way to build a simple platform for our Timneh Greys to hang out on.

Our birdy platform is 9 ½ feet off the ground but you can build yours at any height that is high enough to be above everything else in the room but low enough so the birds can’t damage the ceiling or the walls.

The support bases for the columns are two heavy duty Christmas tree stands that are tested for trees up to 10 feet tall with a trunk diameter of up to 7 inches.  In our case, our carpenter and very helpful friend provided two 9 foot tree trunks that are approximately 7 inches in diameter. He sawed them down on his land and transported them to our house. We screwed them into the stands and then screwed in a 4” x 1” board on the top of the trunk columns. Our board is 13 feet long but you can’t have a span of more than 6 feet if you don’t want the board to sag in the middle. So our board extends on both sides of the trunks.  We used poplar but any bird-safe wood can work.

We provided both a swing with bird-safe ropes that can be climbed as well as a rope spiral to climb up to the roost. We attached the spiral rope to the top of their cage and attached it to a hook on the platform.  The swing and the rope spiral are attached to hooks (facing in) which made replacing the rope swing and rope spiral easy to do.  We also attached two outriggers for the birds to sit on. This construction is heavy and is not intended to be moved, so place it where you can easily clean around it.

We chose the largest trunk that the stands could support for stability, which we would recommend but the height will depend on your space. Even a foot higher than the cage height will give them a great place to climb up to. 

Our Timneh greys are almost 54 years old and can no longer fly up due to arthritis, but they can and do climb and go up and down many times during the day. If your birds are able to fly up and down they will enjoy it too. We cannot put a tree in our bird room, but I can assure you that they enjoy this enrichment.  They rarely come down except to eat, bathe, and sleep. We think it has saved their lives. It has certainly made them better!

Editor’s note: See more about their Florida birdie-walk in an earlier blog post:
https://blog.phoenixlanding.org/2017/05/27/birdiewalk/

These wild caught Timneh greys were adopted through Phoenix Landing in 2013 and have been living their best possible life since. It’s very hard to find adopters who simply appreciate the magic of birds, without expectation, especially a bonded pair. Suzanne and Larry are extraordinary and we are so grateful!

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!

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!