False Clues: Qball’s Story

Why was my quaker parrot Qball falling down?

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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.

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“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.

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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!

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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.
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    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.

 

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!

Birdie Walk, A Ceiling Playground

By Suzanne Cromwell

Background: My husband, Larry, and I adopted two Timneh African greys from Phoenix Landing, Napoleon and Josephine. These birds are former breeders, now 48 years old. Over the years, we have tried to give them plenty of personal space so they feel safe and comfortable, and to facilitate their ability to fly so they are empowered to make choices about their activities. While living in Virginia, the birds liked to fly to a wooden beam running between the bird room and the breakfast area. When we decided to move to Florida, it was a good time to design a room for the birds that supported their ability to fly, and to have a high space to land.

What did I want to create in our bird room?  Our new room for the birds has an 11′ ceiling and no existing beams. I wanted to make sure the greys could still get exercise and the benefits from flight, as well as incorporate full spectrum lighting, a structure for the birds to fly to and play on, and something from which to hang toys. I also did not want to have any electrical wiring exposed and the light bulbs protected.  The following is a description of what we created and call the “birdie walk.”

The birdie walk is a 21 foot rectangular structure made out of bird-safe untreated wood. It is 8 inches wide and hung from the ceiling.  We made sure the structure hung low enough so that the birds could not eat the ceiling.

The side pieces of bird-safe wood are 6 inches on both sides, with ½ round trim.  The trim molding is screwed in with stainless steel screws so once it is destroyed it can easily be replaced without destroying the structure.  If the birds chew the ½ round trim, this can easily be replaced!

Birdie Walk

The birdie walk is secured to the ceiling rafters by metal rods and HVAC straps. Electrical wiring for the lights are attached to ceiling junction boxes located above the ceiling. The metal rod supports, HVAC straps and electrical wiring are enclosed in PVC tubing to keep the birds from chewing through these important structural elements. Full spectrum lighting is installed in the unit, and the lights are included in boxes with a removable plastic grate.

We use hemp rope around the supports to hang natural wood perches or baskets full of toys and chew pieces. You could screw into the bottom of the structure to hang more toys or activities depending on the capabilities of your birds. The birdie walk provides many creative opportunities for hanging bird play and foraging activities!

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The birdie walk is visually attractive and our greys spend many hours playing on it or with the toys, flying up and down, or just overseeing all the activity in the room.

Our birdie walk is 21 foot square but the same idea can be made in any configuration to work in your bird room. Our birds like to go around the whole surface of the birdie walk or fly from one side to the other. Our Timnehs love the bird walk and use it daily. Good luck with yours!

Learning from life with a foster parrot

By Carrie J. Sidener, Foster for Phoenix Landing

It’s been a month since Simon moved in.

This is roughly the halfway point in our foster relationship to determine if this particular little green quaker parrot is a good fit in my home and if my home is a good fit for him. If everything works out, this relationship between us will become a permanent one.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about Simon in this short period of time, in no particular order:

1. I’ve given him the nickname “The Flying Alarm Clock.” He yells as he flies, in the same pattern and roughly the same tone as an alarm clock. Why? I have no idea, but he certainly can’t sneak up on you.

2. Put corn, carrots, peas and scrambled eggs in front of this boy, and he will tear it up. What he won’t touch are some of my personal favorites — just about any berries. He likes apples, but I don’t really care for them.

And he likes cold things. He’ll shake his head when the cold touches his tongue, but will reach for more.

3. Simon is a bird that hasn’t learned how to relax. When he is awake and away from his cage, he is perpetually trying to groom me as though he wants to make sure all my feathers are straight and looking good.

I hate to tell him my feathers — or rather my hair — is always out of place and no semblance of grooming will fix it.

Also, he has some weird obsession with my ears.

4. This little guy is very social, which has endeared him into the hearts of the friends and family who have met him thus far. He loves to have his head scratched and will head butt you if your focus lapses on those wonderful head scratches.

Simon Quaker 20175. Simon has gained a particular attachment and affection for me. When his cage door is open, Simon becomes my little shadow. One morning last week, he ended up clutching my dress at the hip as I prepared his food and packed my lunch.

I managed to snag a photograph of him looking very much like a child clutched to my leg, begging me not to go to work.

6. Simon came to me with a fear of water and while there are a number of suggestions to combat this, I chose what I’m now calling the “Dance Party Method.”

In this method, I bring Simon into the bathroom and let him perch on the top of the shower door so he can watch as I take a shower. But here’s the thing — we have a dance party, and slowly Simon has allowed me to bring him into the shower with the water running. We still have to dance and sing and play, but as long as the energy remains high, he’s OK with it.

I’m a little concerned that I may bust a move a little too vigorously and end up falling in the shower, but so far so good.

7. Simon is a bobber. He will vigorously nod his head up and down to express his happiness or to ask me for something. It’s really adorable, and I’m considering teaching him to do this on command to somehow make it into a trick. Any suggestions?Simon Quaker2 2017

Also, I’m pretty sure I can teach him to dance.

8. He loves to whistle. And he will use his skills to challenge people to a game of Simon Says. Most of the time he wins, but he’s never beaten me.

That’s because I can’t play. I never learned how to whistle.

9. So far, Simon has been a man of few words. The only thing I’ve managed to decipher from him is “Step Up.”

Maybe he’ll say more or maybe he won’t. I don’t really care. He’s a pretty great companion, just as he is.

First published on May 9, 2017 in Lynchburg, VA by The News & Advance

The Wild Magical Parrots of Peru

Our 2016 ecotour took us back to the beautiful rainforest of Peru along the Tambopata River, and time with one of our favorite conservation and research scientists, Dr. Donald Brightsmith. Seeing parrots in the wild always leaves me with mixed feelings – to see birds flying, interacting and responding to their native environment is majestic and overwhelmingly beautiful. On the other hand, I feel so frustrated by the limitations placed on the captive parrots in our homes. No matter how much space, enrichment and opportunity we give them, it just doesn’t compare. However, after viewing the antics and busyness of wild parrots, we can’t help but be inspired to do more for the birds in our homes.

Here are some photos and movies from our trip. I hope these give you some new ideas about how to make life better for your parrot.

Thanks to the group that joined us for this trip, we were able to make a donation of $3,750 to Dr. Brightsmith for his work at the Macaw Project at the Tambopata Research Center. It’s important that we help conserve areas where wild parrots can thrive, and also learn as much as possible about their way of life. Please help support conservation and research for wild parrots! We also hope you’ll join us on a future ecotour, we will be planning another one soon.

This video includes mealy Amazons, blue headed pionus and severe macaws at the Chuncho claylick: youtu.be/WOvbU8MlO3E.

Here is a video of a greenwing macaw and a blue and gold macaw having a “discussion.” They hang from the branch and hold each other’s feet.https://youtu.be/996f2oSPaHw. Thanks to Angie Yeung from Celltei.com for this amazing video!

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Blue headed pionus parrots

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Greenwing and scarlet macaws at the Chunco claylick along the Tambopata River

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Greenwing, scarlet and blue and gold macaws at the claylick

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Two blue and gold macaws.  What might they be discussing?

Kraft Paper Rules!

By Jenny Drummey

Newspaper is the recommended substrate for your parrot’s cage. Please don’t use cedar chips, sawdust or other dusty junk that can harbor bacteria and fungus and cause problems for parrots such as aspergillosis or other lung issues. While it’s cheap or free and does the job, newspapers are becoming harder to find as news goes digital. I have recently come to embrace kraft paper wholeheartedly as a newspaper substitute with great results.

Kraft paper is made by a machine out of wood pulp and comes in rolls in standard widths with different lengths. I measured my cages and found that a 30 inch wide roll would work for all of them. I purchased a roll and a paper cutter and have not turned back.

Kraft paper makes clean up easy and quick. While most cage bottoms require multiple sheets of newspaper, kraft paper can be torn to fit the cage bottom. The fiddly bits don’t slide between the multiple pages and can be easily collected in one piece for cleanup. Kraft paper can also be cut in a continuous sheet to extend up the cage sides to catch more tossed food, toy pieces and poop.

It’s quicker to tear off kraft paper than unfold page after page of newspaper. Plus, no newspaper means no newsprint which can stain your hands and your bird’s feathers.

Kraft paper is sturdier than newspaper, so it doesn’t move as much as newspaper does when a bird takes off.  It can be used under newspaper for extra protection under your parrot’s typical “morning poop” spot. I find its consistent look more attractive too.

It makes poop monitoring easier. Droppings stand out on the plain brown background and there’s no guess work as there might be if your bird poops on a colorful photo or ad. It’s a little less absorbent than newspaper too, so the amount of urine in each dropping is visible longer, which is helpful when evaluating the amount of urine (the clear stuff), urates (the white stuff) and feces (the green, worm shaped stuff).  

Additionally, kraft paper can be used for other things: To wrap packages, to make covers for kids’ schoolbooks, or to cover work surfaces, table tops, or floors. It’s tough and tear resistant. Basically, anywhere you need quick clean up, kraft paper is ready to serve!

kevins-rollsNow for the only (but biggest!) drawback: the price. The paper cutter (measured to fit the roll) cost $43. My 30 inch roll is 640 feet long and cost under $40. After using it for two months I am nowhere near the end. I have four birds, and one of my cages is a double cage, so I am using it for essentially five cages, plus under trees and play stands. I change papers every day. My guess is that the roll with last another 2-3 months, so my cost is roughly $10 per month. And, yes, that’s a lot of money. However, home delivery of the Washington Post is $15 for 4 weeks, so there’s no doubt that kraft paper is the more economical method for me. And if you have fewer birds or smaller cages, you will use much less paper then I do.

Small rolls of kraft paper can be purchased at dollar stores. Test it with your flock to see if this awesome option is right for you.