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.

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.

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!