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June & July 2018 // Issue 1.0







Behind the Black Palm Cockatoo



Zebra Finch










A New Era Begins


remember the day I fell in love with parrots. I was 18 and had just been hired at Petco, where I was learning the ins-and-outs of my new job. Part of the job meant taking care of the animals sold in the store, and two of them happened to be a young African grey and umbrella cockatoo. (This was right before PETA pushed for legislation banning big box stores like Petco from selling birds larger than a conure.) I saw the birds and fell in love at first sight. Of course, that hadn’t been my first experience with parrots. One of my childhood babysitters had cockatiels, and I loved them dearly. It was that African grey and cockatoo that made me a true bird enthusiast. I knew then whatever I ended up doing, birds would be involved. That path led me to start working for Omar Gonzalez, and his avian-only store, Omar’s Exotic Birds formerly in Studio City, Calif. I learned a lot about birds, too, helped raised quite a few baby birds and find them great homes. For a brief moment, I even had a bird grooming and cage-cleaning service! Throughout my time at Petco, Omar’s Exotic Birds and the grooming service, there was one resource that kept me updated on the latest in bird health and training. It was a publication that helped me connect with the larger bird world, fed my passion and taught me what I needed to know. It was a magazine I loved reading cover to cover, often with one of the birds from the store crawling all around me, getting socialized. As you might guess, it was Bird Talk. Needless to say, when I had a chance to work there, it was a dream come true. I could go on and on here about how working for the magazine changed my life, but that might be for an editor’s letter in the future. All I know is that I’m not alone in what role Bird Talk played in my life. The magazine changed so many lives, taught so many people, helped people come together and make lifelong friends. Sometimes Bird Talk would break new ground by publishing the latest research and studies about parrots. It helped bring new ideas to the forefront and was the go-to publication to get solid information you could trust. And of course, it helped teach people how to take better care of their birds. With such a fundamental role Bird Talk played in the world of aviculture, it was heartbreaking when the magazine suddenly left it. And it was for that reason, I always wanted to bring the magazine back to you. For something that so radically changed my life, helped turned my passion into a career and helped me meet so many of you wonderful people, I wanted to give that back to you. I want to thank Patricia Sund, the blogger behind Parrot Nation, the creator of the Chop Concept and of course, now one of Bird Talk’s owners. I want to thank those who got us off the ground: Nancy Shea and April Blazich, to name a few. Special thanks to Christopher Appoldt, the photographer of our cover bird. I want to thank Marion Morgan of Upstream Designs, who made our fabulous cover, and Emily Coon for designing the magazine. And thanks to you too, dear reader. We couldn’t do this without you, and I am so proud to begin a new era of Bird Talk with the issue in your hands now. I hope you love it as much as I do. •

Jessica Pineda

Bird Talk EDITORIAL Editor-in-Chief Jessica Pineda Creative Director Patricia Sund ART & DESIGN Marion Morgan, Upstream Design Emily Coon CONTRIBUTORS Crystal Apilado Christoper Appoldt Cathy Coleman Alex Evans Fran Sturms Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian Practice) Jason Crean Susan Chamberlain Amanda Lafond James Gilardi, Ph.D. T. Ray Verteramo Lara Joseph Margaret Wissman, DVM Diane Grindol Terry A. Barber Marguerite Floyd Linda S. Rubin Tom Kimball PRINTER Short Run Printing, Ltd. 3128 West Thomas Rd, Suite 201 Phoenix, AZ 85017 855-629-5162 SALES Louis Brandt 818-892-8864 Parrot Publications 10824 Olson Dr, Ste C, #380 Rancho Cordova, CA 95670 888-515-8296

Editor in Chief JUNE/JULY 2018 • BIRD TA L K • 1


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Contents J U N E /J U LY 2018

























































4 • B IR D TA LK • JUNE/JULY 2018







How we brought this magazine back, and why it vanished in the first place. By Jessica Pineda

Parrots have feelings, too, even if they don’t show them. By Cathy Coleman


The drumming of palm cockatoos not only might explain how we humans developed music, but also hints at how intelligent these birds really are. By Jessica Pineda










Meet the scientists unraveling the mysteries of bird flight. By Alex Evans There are a number of fruits and vegetables in season during the summer. Which one will be your bird’s favorite? By Jessica Pineda How to choose a home for your bird that pleases your pet and make housekeeping easy for you. By Fran Sturms

Old avian health problems have new solutions. By Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian Practice)


These little birds might be the perfect pet. By Jessica Pineda



117 66



Create a special space for your bird with these ideas. By Jessica Pineda











116 60

A look at how far conservation efforts for these amazing birds has come. By James Gilardi, executive director for the World Parrot Trust

Bring birds to your phone with this adorable mini-game. By Jessica Pineda The internet has helped bird owners connect around the world. What would happen if there were restrictions placed on it? By T. Ray Verteramo If you understand your bird’s ways, you’ll be off to a great start. By Jamie Whittaker Think you know about birds and heatstroke? Take this quiz to find out!





Foul-mouthed birds have captured the heart of the internet. By Jessica Pineda Can adding oils to your bird’s diet better her health? By Patricia Sund and Jason Crean JUNE/JULY 2018 • BIRD TA L K • 5


Looking forward to seeing the new magazine. Really missed it! Good luck in the launch!

Letters, Rants and Raves

Launch Excitement

Barb Rosenthal

Can't wait to get the first Bird Talk. I missed it!

I just wanted to leave a note telling you how excited I am to see Bird Talk being published again. I can't wait to get a copy! Heather

Announcements “I am so happy Bird Talk has reappeared. The palm cockatoo on your cover is my bird. It is great to see her on your cover.” Debbie Pechnik

Do you have a funny comic strip that would make parrot lovers everywhere laugh? Submit it for consideration to be featured in Bird Talk Magazine. We'll pay you $100 if we choose yours. Email us at for more information.

WANT TO SEND US A NOTE? Reach out to us at BIRD TALK, Mailbag, 10824 Olson Dr., Ste. C, #380, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670 or email us at LOOKING FOR US ON SOCIAL MEDIA? Find us on Facebook at Find us on Twitter at Find us on Instagram at

6 • B IR D TA LK • JUNE/JULY 2018


Judith Hunter

JUNE/JULY 2018 • BIRD TA L K • 7


Avian Fashions is celebrating 20 years of business this year. Founded by Mark and Lorraine Moore in Stafford, Va. in 1997, the company's line of products include the Bird Diaper/FlightSuit, leashes, hoodies, sweaters, costumes and Feather Protectors, which help birds who pluck or mutilate their feathers. Their products are made for birds of all shapes and sizes, including parrots, ducks, geese, chickens and pigeons. Since their launch, Avian Fashion products have been featured on Animal Planet, National Geographic Explorer, the CBS Early Show and Good Morning America. Lorraine Moore also recently won the Pet Age Women of Influence Award, presented at the Sea World Renaissance Orlando during the Global Pet Expo in March 2018. The award recognizes the impact women leaders have had on the pet industry, honoring those who have been influential in pet manufacturing or services. “The pet industry is strong, and due in large part, we can thank women for that,” Pet Age writes on their website. “Whether it because they’re making the purchase decisions at home, inventing products to solve a problem, putting on trade shows or running a company, women bolster the pet industry.” About their success, Mark Moore said, “We had no idea we could take a niche product like this and have this much fun and be this successful at it.” Lorraine Moore added, “We’ve always been about ‘thinking outside the cage,’ and I want our customers to know they should never give up on their dreams, that not everything has been invented and not everything needs to be high tech. We do this by 8 • B IR D TALK • JUNE/JULY 2018

surrounding ourselves with positive people and practicing gratitude.” • Find out more about Avian Fashions at

Donations to Laney Rickman Blue-Throated Macaw Fund to be Doubled It was tragic when Laney Rickman (1952–2017), founder of Bird Endowment, passed away last year during the hurricanes in Houston. However, her work with the blue-throated macaws continues thanks to the Laney Rickman Blue-throated Macaw Fund. This fund provides vital support to save these critically endangered macaws from extinction. Rickman’s originated and developed Nido Adoptivo in 2007 in

partnership with Asociación Armonía as an annual campaign to raise funds to cover the costs of materials to build the nest boxes and place them in areas where blue-throated macaws would use them. The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is helping to continue Rickman’s work through the fund From now until the end of the year, all donations up to $100,000 will be doubled. “After 11 breeding seasons, 71 bluethroated macaws fledged from the nest boxes. For the first time, in 2017 a second-generation chick was raised by parents who both had fledged from these nest boxes,” writes the ABC on their website. “Given that only 250 to 300 mature individuals are estimated left in the wild, the impact is truly significant.” • Find out more at


Avian Fashions Celebrates 20 Years in Business


PROMOTE YOUR PRODUCTS! Let Bird Talk readers know about the latest products for them and their birds. Do you have a new bird product that you would like to tell the world about? Submit it to our special Bird Boutique section! Let us know about it by sending a photo of your product that is at least 3 by 5 inches and 300 dpi, along with a 50- to 100-word description to, subject line “Bird Boutique.” We’re also looking for sponsors to give away up to 5 products to our loyal readers in our “Reader Rewards” section. Interested? Contact for details.

Amanda (Age 7-13)

Caroline (Age 7-13)

Kiki (Age 7-13)

Mitred Conure, Chicken Man Submitted by Brenda Jorgensen, Texas

Mitred Conure, Chicken Man Submitted by Brenda Jorgensen, Texas

Mitred Conure, Chicken Man Submitted by Brenda Jorgensen, Texas

Anika (Age 7-13)

Bella (Age 7-13)

Gavin Baird (Age 7)

Mitred Conure, Chicken Man Submitted by Brenda Jorgensen, Texas

Mitred Conure, Chicken Man Submitted by Brenda Jorgensen, Texas

Eclectus, Maise Ohio

SEND US YOUR DRAWINGS “Kids Talk Back” is specifically set aside for drawings, poetry and stories about our young readers’ birds. If you would like to make a submission, email it to and put “Kids Talk Back” in the subject line of your email. You may also mail submissions to Bird Talk, Attn: Kids Talk Back,

10824 Olson Dr, Ste C, #380, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670. Be sure to add your name, address, telephone number and age on the back of each submission. Drawings should be on unlined paper. All submissions to “Kids Talk Back” automatically become the property of the publisher and cannot be returned. JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 9


The latest bags for bird enthusiasts.

Toucan Pencil Case/Makeup Bag You can’t get more fashionable than with this toucan/parrot pencil case/makeup bag from Poppy and the Wolf at Esty. They’re also hand-cut and hand-made, making this bag one of a kind.

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Tropical Parrot Makeup/Toiletry Travel Bag

This tropical bird bag from 13 Daisy Chains on Etsy is sure to turn any bird lover’s head and make them try to guess each species on it.

Travel in style with this handmade bag from Puppy Pawz Boutique. Don’t be surprised when people ask where you go this cute bird bag from! PuppyPawzBoutique 13DaisyChains

Blue-Fronted Amazon Parrot Hand-painted Bag Say goodbye to boring grocery bags. The hand-painted biodegradable jute bag from Queen of Paris on Etsy makes trips to the grocery store fashionable. queenofpersia

10 • B IR D TA LK • JUNE/JULY 2018


Beaks Up!

What are the greys up to now? By Patricia Sund

MEMO: To Parker, Pepper & Nyla DEPT: African Greys FROM: Patricia Sund


SUBJECT: Beaks Up!

Okay, guys, we’re back in the saddle. Bird Talk Magazine is back up and running and, of course, you and all of the sometimes unsavory and occasionally hilarious things you do are back in print. I know you had a wonderful sabbatical away from the limelight of the old days of being the famous albeit obnoxious little beings before the old Bird Talk Magazine quietly slid off into the sunset. Your wise-butt behavior made you famous from sea to warming sea and people got quite the thrill out of meeting you whenever you attended an event. This, of course, made things worse on the home front as Parker became especially demanding due to my lack of interest in giving you your “Annual French Fry” every week instead of what the title of the treat implies. Not happening, dude! It didn’t happen back when you were the toast of page 6 and it isn’t going to happen now. I’m telling you this news because I’m afraid I’m going to get a little attitude when you come to realize you are once again “made guys.” This is not to imply

that you are involved somehow with any clandestine organizations, nor do you have to learn a secret handshake. Your “high four” is just fine the way it is. However, you have once again been thrust into the limelight of having all of your behaviors — be they cute, remarkable, or entirely over the top obnoxious — set in print. I have noticed some changes over the years since the old days of the magazine. We have all gotten older, more seasoned more mature. But with that comes experience and wisdom. And Parker, you have gotten far craftier with your maturity. Parker, you have refined your walkabouts in the morning to make them more stealthy. Do you think you could cut the morning chases down the hall to only five? I am getting on in years, and having to hurl myself off the couch and pace down the hall while you are busily trying to chop down my bedroom door from the bottom edge up is getting on my nerves and it certainly doesn’t do much for my lower back. When I launch after you so that you’ll fly back to your perch, you make a perfect landing every time. And while I realize you are indeed a parrot leaving you without much of an ability to express yourself with your face, I do sense that your quiet, reserved attitude is disguising some withering thoughts. Thoughts that are telling me you are thinking of some awful insults:

“I’m jealous of people that don’t know you.” “Why are you here? Didn’t some little girl from Kansas drop a house on you?” “I’m going to get a step ladder, climb to the top and poop right on your head.” “Oh, I see you managed to tie your shoes today.” Some of these battles I choose not to pursue with you. I just let you think those scathing thoughts and move on. During these hallway chases, Pepper and Nyla just nicely sit there on their perches quietly munching imaginary popcorn and cheering you on in their minds. I’m pretty sure this is one battle I’m never going to win. As I myself have become more seasoned, more thoughtful and less concerned with things that don’t really matter, I have come to realize just how much I have learned from you three: Lots of things don’t matter. And the things that matter are usually right in front of your face. Sometimes it simply takes a while before you come to realize just what they are. When I take a minute to take a breath, I realize just how important you are to me and how much I have learned just by living with you. I guess this journey has been worth it. • Patricia Sund is the creative director of Bird Talk Magazine. JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 11

The Bird Talk Story How we brought this magazine back, and why it vanished in the first place.


ince it was first published in 1982 by Thomas A. Bell, Bird Talk has dedicated itself to the better care of pet birds. Even though it’s changed hands several times from its inception — from being purchased by Fancy Publications/BowTie in 1984, then by I-5 Publishing/Lumina Media in 2013, and finally going to my company, Parrot Publications in 2017 — Bird Talk has never lost sight of its mission. We’re excited to continue that very mission in this new era, starting with the magazine in your hands (or on your tablet) here. 12 • B IR D TA LK • JUNE/JULY 2018

By Jessica Pineda However, before that, we need to discuss the magazine’s more recent history; specifically, when it folded in 2012. I hope you’ll forgive us new readers, but it was something that hit the bird world hard at the time, and so many people never got a good explanation as to why the magazine disappeared. It’s something that still lingers over all of us today, and I believe, a story that needs to be told. Those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it, as they say. So, readers, let us all go back to 2012, to when Bird Talk had just entered its

30th year, and I was a senior associate editor for the magazine. Let’s discuss what exactly happened and why, and why Parrot Publications decided to bring the magazine back.


hat was Bird Talk? On the surface, that question seems easy to answer. It was a magazine, of course. Yet, ask anyone in the bird world, and they’ll say it was more than that. It was an invaluable resource. It was a teaching tool like no other. It was

a bridge that helped bird owners around the world connect with each other. It was a pillar of the bird community. It was Bird Talk, and there was nothing else like that out there. It was a magazine I was proud to work on too, starting first as an assistant editor in 2007 and growing into a senior associate editor by 2012. That year was a good year too: In 2012, Bird Talk turned 30 years old, and it was still going strong in its mission of providing better care for pet birds. We were covering a wide range of topics, from the latest in bird research and health, food trends and teaching bird owners about this still relatively new concepts called foraging and enrichment. The next year was looking bright, with the 2013 editorial calendar almost finished and several new writers joining the magazine lineup. Bird Talk had so much going for it, and I was excited to one day soon inherit this magazine as the editor and lead it through its next 30 years. And then, without any warning, the magazine folded. When I say it was without warning, I mean it. None of us expected it; none of us saw it coming. It was such a shock to the bird world, its demise ended up generating mainstream coverage. National Public Radio and the New York Times ran articles about the magazine folding! Just like that, an era ended and it was as bitterly painful as the sudden death of a beloved celebrity. And the worst thing was, it should never have happened.

Since it was first published in 1982 by Thomas A. Bell, Bird Talk has dedicated itself to the better care of pet birds. doing OK. Not great, of course; its heyday was long past it (RIP, the 90s), but it was still chugging along. It reflected the bird world at the time; the future uncertain as the next generation of bird lovers were struggling to survive the recession and the current generation growing older. Birds competed with other things too: Video games, smartphones, Twitter, Tumblr, Buzzfeed, etc. It was going to be a while yet before we could recover and start to grow again. That didn’t mean Bird Talk was in any danger of folding at the time. There


ow that might surprise you if you were an avid reader of Bird Talk at the time. Without warning, your favorite magazine was gone, and the only explanation there was that Bird Talk was moving online via It made sense, too: At the time, the publishing world was still struggling post- Great Recession, and the death of print still seemed very real when websites like BuzzFeed dominated the internet landscape. That Bird Talk folded during that period was completely understandable. I’ll be honest, too: Bird Talk was

was talk about making the magazine to go bi-monthly, which would have raised the page count up past 43 pages and made an overall better product.’s audience was increasing month over month too, and we planned to do more to bridge the two groups and grow them both. Compared to the dog and cat world, the bird market is niche

still and it gave us an edge other pet magazines didn’t have. But, like I said, things were “just OK.” While the editorial side of the magazine was good, the sales team weren’t having the easiest time selling ads. The recession had hit the bird manufacturers just as hard as everyone else, and there were less expensive places to advertise than in Bird Talk, such as Google Ads. Ask any advertiser at the time, and they’ll tell you that the rates to advertise in Bird Talk were on the expensive side, and the sales team was working to change that. However, any changes had to go through the CEO of the company of the time and he was … let’s say, he wasn’t keen on being flexible. The company was struggling at the time to adapt to this world of Buzzfeeds, Google Ads and all this talk of the death of print, and we were all feeling the strain. There were a lot of internal politics going on at the same time that Bird Talk was being indirectly affected by, too, though it was through no fault of our own. The company was struggling to make ends meet, and sometimes, the CEO was fickle, to put it kindly. Stubborn, too. So arrives our fateful day. I can’t say what exactly happened that day since I wasn’t there. I’ve only heard the story secondhand, but my sources are quite reliable and knowing what I know, I believe them. Here’s how the story goes: In a meeting with the CEO, the publisher — or the person responsible for both sales and editorial sides of the magazine — was bringing up the issues the sales team was having selling the magazine. How he explained it, I don’t know, but however he said it did not go over well. Maybe all those internal politics I mentioned had finally come to a head, and Bird Talk stood no chance. Whatever happened, JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 13

the CEO only had one response. “Let’s kill it.” Now I can assure you, this did not go over well. Everyone on the top levels tried to talk the CEO out of his decision. Everyone knew this was a terrible decision, especially with how the company was struggling — you just didn’t kill a magazine that was still profitable like Bird Talk was. They fought hard to keep the magazine going since they knew that killing it could make all the company’s woes a thousand times worse. There was no changing the CEO’s mind, however. Stubbornness won out in the end, as hard as it is to believe. However, ask anyone who knew the CEO of the company at the time, and they won’t be surprised. And they won’t be surprised that Bird Talk stood no chance once the CEO turned against it. And so, an era ended. With a whimper and a bang, all at once.

14 • B IR D TALK • JUNE/JULY 2018


’ll spare you the details, but the aftermath post-Bird Talk was a lesson in the stages of grief. My entire world changed overnight and I had a hard time believing it. My career plans of one day inheriting the magazine were simply gone, and this product I had spent years reading and creating just didn’t exist anymore. It

Bird Talk’s demise ended several careers. It shook the bird community to its core.

was hard to process. Then the anger happened. Bird Talk’s demise ended several careers. It shook the bird community to its core. People were understandably outraged about it, and I fielded a lot of angry phone calls at the time. And the dog magazine fiasco! The company decided to replace Bird Talk subscriptions with dog and cat magazines, but that went down as well as you expected. I can’t tell you the number of times I heard how those dog magazines became cage tray liners. It was like being kicked when we were all already down. Bargaining followed soon after: People begged me for the magazine to come back. They were happy to pay more money for it or even do an online version — whatever form it came in, they just wanted the magazine back. There was literal bargaining too: a few companies offered to buy the rights to Bird Talk in order to start it back up again.

People begged me for the magazine to come back. They were happy to pay more money for it or even do an online version — whatever form it came in, they just wanted the magazine back. Nothing went through, however, and we all slid into the next stage. I don’t know how the depression stage was for you all, but it was especially hard for me. They had taken my magazine away, and it hurt; I just didn’t know what to do with myself either. Bird Talk had given me so much: A community. Lifelong friends. A chance to turn my interest in birds into a passion. A career doing what I loved. And it was all gone. And knowing the truth, that the magazine should have never have folded to begin with, made everything that much harder to deal with. I couldn’t get to the acceptance stage for that reason since it was just so unfair. All I could do was hope that one day the magazine would come back.


ive years passed; 2017 came around. Without getting into politics, it was a year a lot of women found the strength they didn’t know they had. The reports of print’s death had been greatly exaggerated, too, and magazines had been making a comeback. There was a new generation of bird lovers coming into age, and their parrots were becoming social media stars. Here I was, thinking about Bird Talk again. No one had ever brought it back like I had hoped. Nothing had properly filled the gap it had left behind, either, and there was no longer one place to find bird information on the Internet after became part of When bird information is folded into a website that primarily

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16 • B IR D TA LK • JUNE/JULY 2018

focuses on dogs and cats, it’s easy for it to get lost. Birds were and still are a niche market, and every business knows how great that is. In many ways, it was the perfect time for Bird Talk to come back. However, saying that is one thing; doing it is another. So I reached out to one person to bounce the idea off of: my good friend, Patricia Sund. Patricia and I had been friends for years, ever since she first started writing Memos to Parker and Pepper in 2009. You might know Patricia too: She runs the popular Parrot Nation blog, wrote about birds for, and is most famous as the creator of The Chop Concept. Chop seized the bird world by storm when she first started introducing the idea several years back, and to this day, people are making their own versions of Chop and sharing them online. She was familiar with the Bird Talk brand as a writer and had a pulse on the bird community that I didn’t quite have anymore. So, I shot her an email, subject line “Crazy Idea,” and I asked one simple

question: What if we brought Bird Talk back? To say that Patricia picked that idea up and ran with it is an understatement. Almost immediately, she had half a dozen article topics, and just as many column ideas. She had a vision for how the magazine would look and feel; she thought it would be wonderful if we moved to a more modern, luxurious look. I agreed, and with my historical knowledge and own ideas, I knew we could create a beautiful product. First, however, we had to see if we could buy Bird Talk. That meant reaching out to the owners of the Bird Talk copyright, Lumina Media (formally I-5 Publishing). Were they willing to sell it? Answer, yes. Then we had to find financing to get us off the ground, which Patricia found in a matter of days. I can’t thank her enough for that: It was her hard work that got us to this point. Along with her, Nancy Shea, April Blazich and one other anonymous sponsor, we got off the magazine going and ready for launch. And thanks to all their efforts, Bird Talk was reborn again.


o what’s next for the new Bird Talk? You have this issue in your hands, which is the first step of many. We have plans for more magazines, podcasts and books and maybe even some online shows one day. We want to bring birds back in a big way, and it all starts right here. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a long road ahead. Though the pet industry is a $66.75 billion industry, according to the American Pet Products Association, birds make such a tiny fraction of that. The 24 to 35 year olds just aren’t into birds, and bird ownership is expected to decline because of it. Compared to dogs and cats, birds seem like an afterthought in mainstream media even though they make great pets. As with any animal, whether it’s dog, cat or bird, they need proper training and care, and we shouldn’t make that out to be harder than it is. If we continue to portray birds in the negative, it’ll just become a self-fulfilling prophecy and we deserve better than that. I see a lot of potential for change, though. Like I mentioned above, there’s a whole group of bird owners that are

coming of age right now and they love their birds. Millennials love their pets and consider them their starter children. Just take a look at social media, and you’ll see bird stars that have thousands of followers. The ornithology community on Twitter is super active, too. Check out the #parrotsofinstagram tag over on the photo-sharing website, Instagram, and you’ll see a healthy half a million posts. There’s a growing number of Latino and Asian bird owners in the United States too, according to the Bird Products: U.S. Pet Market Trends and Opportunities survey. By bridging the gap between older bird owners and this younger generation, I think we can change the narrative about birds and the declining path it is on in the United States. That would mean more focus on conversation, fewer birds in rescues, new breakthroughs in avian research, more new products from bird manufacturers, more aviculturists and of course, more knowledge being shared. And not only would that benefit us here in the U.S., it would benefit birds everywhere, especially in new markets like China, the Middle East and

Latin America. Everything we learned about parrots and birds can be passed on to them so they start off on the right foot with these amazing animals. And best of all, Bird Talk can continue its original mission: To provide better care for pet birds. I hope you’ll join me for that as we start the next 30 years of Bird Talk. •

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Emotional Rescue Parrots have feelings, too, even if they don’t show them. By Cathy Coleman


ne of the many things we love about parrots is their amazing intelligence. However, did you know that they also have the ability to express an array of emotions through behavior, vocalization and body language? While it’s important to make sure that all their outward needs are met, we also need to be aware of everything that might be going on with them on the inside, too. WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? Actually a lot, especially for us. We bring parrots into our lives because they are a joy to us, not because we want to spend a lifetime scraping sweet potato off the

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walls or walking around with missing buttons on our shirts. A bird’s desire for companionship and ability to connect with us reaches deeper into our soul than perhaps we would ever like to admit. When they leave us, we mourn their passing as beloved family members. YOU BELONG TO ME … LITERALLY In using the term affection or “love” with parrots, we must also take into account its evil twin: jealousy. Psittacine love can be extremely jealous, and parrots demonstrate strong preferences in the partners they choose to shower that affection with, especially when the partner they choose is human.

When my husband Frank and I adopted Thor, a 20-year-old Moluccan cockatoo, she immediately crowned Frank as “the chosen one.” She would tenderly preen his beard, nibble gently at his fingers and whistle softly in his ear. If I happened to sit too close, Thor would hop across the floor and climb up my outstretched leg to spread her wings and hiss at me with all her might. Message sent, she quickly scurried back to Frank, her one true love and most prized possession. Did Thor “love” Frank? Probably not to the extent or equivalency of human love, but she definitely saw him as her mate, and clearly viewed me as chopped liver. However, over time, Thor and I became extremely

close friends with a very different, but equally rewarding relationship than she shared with her “boyfriend,” Frank. And that was perfectly OK. ANGER MANAGEMENT Are parrots capable of feeling anger? Why not? What 5 year old doesn’t get upset when they don’t get their way, or someone steals their toy or they have to go to bed? Welcome to the mind of a parrot; the eternal toddler in feather pajamas. Their little tantrums might be somewhat “misguided,” but feelings of frustration and anger can be quite real to our feathered kids. With my own parrots, there is a big difference between anger, fear and distrust. Thor gets mad when I sit on “her” couch. Petrie, our Timneh African grey, becomes infuriated when Fred, our overly-amicable Alexandrine parakeet, vocally taunts him with “What’s the problem? Huh? Huh?” Petrie arrived as a fear-biter from treatment suffered in previous homes, and Fred was initially distrustful of me due to prior life with a woman who locked him in a closet when he was loud. Neither Petrie, Fred or Thor have “anger issues,” but they do occasionally wake up on the wrong side of the perch, just like we do. The key is to try to understand what it’s really about and not take it personally.


EMPATHY: NOT JUST FOR HUMANS Our parrots spend the majority of their days watching, listening and monitoring us in silence. Sometimes we are not aware of the depths at which they perceive our thoughts and feelings, even if we don’t we don’t utter a single word. In the wild, a parrot’s life depends on the safety and security of the flock. In captivity, heightened perception to their human flock is how parrots connect themselves to our world. Our every movement, emotion and reaction are noted. Why? Because since we control everything about their world, their instincts tell them they must depend on us. We inadvertently become their “flock,” even if it is a “flock of two.” A few years ago, I raised a barn swallow hatchling that had been pushed from a high, overcrowded nest. I named the barn swallow Cricket because she was so small. Because of the time I spent with her, I inadvertently became

Cricket’s “flock.” She eagerly anticipated our time together, especially when I took her outside to fly to help her build her strength. She took “flying lessons” very seriously, sailing around the farm at great speed, only to return and land on my arm every time. One afternoon, as she was flying back to me, a hawk swooped down and snatched Cricket in mid-air. She was only a few feet from my outstretched arm. One moment my tiny feathered friend was there. The next, gone forever. There were simply no words for my despair. That evening, as I still struggled to fight back tears, I noticed both Thor and Petrie were strangely quiet, as though sensing something very different about me. Thor sat quietly on her perch, appearing ready for “transport” to her beloved Frank. When I offered her my arm, she declined, instead simply holding up her foot. I took her foot in my hand and she

Parrots are extremely sensitive and capable of feeling all sorts of emotions. softly squeezed my fingers with her toes. “Hi Thor,” she said quietly. I knew immediately it was her way of telling me that she knew my heart was heavy. Petrie, whose sarcastic greetings were normally punctuated with gunfire, sat watching me in silence. When I walked by, he whispered, “Are you OK?” I knew that if he suspected something ... well, I might as well have been carrying a sign. No matter how hard we try to hide our feelings, our parrots “know,” even when we don’t want them to. Our feelings are very “real” to them. GOODBYE IS FOREVER ... TO THEM What if your soulmate or best friend suddenly disappeared from your life? Life goes on as though “nothing happened,” yet no one tries to comfort you or help you understand. This happens to parrots every day when siblings,

friends or lifelong mates are taken away or die. Parrots who have lived in one home with their familiar human “flock,” often experience feelings of anxiety, despair, and loneliness if they have to be rehomed. This can be especially traumatic because parrots are definitely capable of feeling sorrow and the inevitable heartache that comes from being separated from those they love. During these times, it is important to be empathetic, compassionate, and especially understanding towards our parrot friends. They do not care how much we know until they know how much we care. REAL SCIENCE Parrots are extremely sensitive and capable of feeling all sorts of emotions. But perhaps it is not so much the scientific understanding of that aspect as it is the acceptance of the possible truth that maybe they just “do.” Parrots accept us for who we are. They don’t need “proof.” They don’t demand that we “change,” but instead they learn to adapt. Maybe we should do the same. Perhaps it is time to place our hearts in our hands and feel “for” them instead of assuming they “feel” nothing. We may never understand the complexity of how parrots think or feel because we cannot possibly fathom what they experience as much-loved captives in our world. But what is important to understand is that every interaction is a lesson meant to teach us something. Sometimes the lesson is about humility. Sometimes it is about patience. And sometimes it is simply to lighten up. And while the question may always remain, “... but is it ‘love?” in all honesty, does it matter? We have a hard enough time explaining our own feelings to each other, so who are we to divine or define whether a bond is actually “real,” or simply “science?” Maybe, just maybe, it’s a little bit of both. • Cathy Coleman is a freelance writer and animal enthusiast who lives in Tennessee with her three feathered children, Thor, Petrie, and Fred, as well as numerous other domestic and “wild” creatures and her insanely-tolerant-of-it-all husband, Frank. She has written for, Petcha, and Cornell University’s Department of Ornithology. JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 19

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Black Palm Cockatoos: The Music that Connects Us The drumming of palm cockatoos not only might explain how we humans developed music, but also hints at how intelligent these birds really are. By Jessica Pineda Photography by Christina N. Zdenek, Ph.D.


n first glance, there’s nothing that is remotely human in the unique, if not striking, looks of the black palm cockatoos (Probosciger aterrimus). With their smoky gray to black feathers, their bright red cheek patches and those magnificent crests, they’re like no other cockatoo or parrot out there. And the oddities don’t end there, as they exhibit behaviors like no other parrots. They don’t live in large flocks, mostly living in pairs or, at most, six birds in one group. They are not prolific breeders either: A pair only has one egg, and they invest a lot in raising that one chick to adulthood.

They have odd nesting behaviors too, in that they create a platform of twigs in their nest hollows. Only quaker parrots build nests; most other parrots just use a hollow and that’s it. However, one behavior, one of their most unique ones, ends up being human in ways no one realized until recently. That behavior is the “drumming” palm cockatoos do, where the males take a twig, drum it on a tree hollow to create their own beats and, in a way, their own music. And it’s that that connects us to these birds, and might be the doorway to understanding and appreciating palm cockatoos on a whole other level.

The males takes a twig, drums it on a tree hollow to create their own beats and, in a way, their own music. JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 21


he drumming behavior only occurs in one subspecies of black palm, P.a. macgillivrayi, that live in Cape York, Queensland, Australia. Why they drum has never been properly understood until the study “Tool-assisted rhythmic drumming in palm cockatoos shares key elements of human instrumental music,” was published in Science Advances in 2017 ( The study showed that through drumming, black palms share “key rudiments of human instrumental music, including manufacture of a sound tool, performance in a consistent context, regular beat production, repeated components and individual styles,” according to the abstract. By examining how different species create their own form of music, we might learn more about how we humans created music. We’ve known about palm cockatoos drumming since 1984, but it took

“... this is the only known example that we know of a nonhuman animal using a tool in order to make a beat.” more than 30 years to realize that it was much more than a bird banging a stick on a tree. We know now thanks to the work of Christina N. Zdenek, BSc., MSc., the world’s foremost expert on black palm cockatoo. Now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Queensland School of Biological Sciences in Australia, Zdenek has done a number of studies on black palm cockatoos. Why was she inspired to study palm cockatoos? For Zdenek, who initially wanted to study venomous snakes and who is also a snake wildlife educator, the palm cockatoos had the potential to be an ‘umbrella species.’

“By that I mean, a species that occurs over an area that one would like to protect,” Zdenek explained. What made them a good umbrella species? “It’s charismatic, people can relate to their intelligence, and they live in a special region, Cape York, that is absolutely worth protecting.” It’s not to say smaller creatures aren’t important ecologically speaking, Zdenek pointed out. However, without umbrella species like the palm cockatoo, there’s no way you’re going to convince the public to not make millions of shortsided dollars off mining land like Cape York by using a slug as an umbrella species, for example. “It’s helpful to have these sexy, charismatic, beautiful species that people can relate too,” she said. Cape York region needed a flagship species, Zdenek added. “Cape York was under a lot of strife regarding mining … and [we] needed to convince people to care. We needed people to go out of their way to fight the good fight that we constantly need to battle, given shortterm thinking by politicians, and greed being part of human nature. “[To do so], I wanted to show people what a fascinating bird this was.” And that Zdenek did, showing not only others but learning for herself. She affectionately calls them palmies, and her love for the birds is clear in her passion and voice. “I didn’t realize at the time at how fascinating they would come to be, and there are still numerous mysteries to unravel of just this one bird alone, let alone heaps of others,” she said.


iscovering that drumming palm cockatoos were making individualistic beats was part of a 4-year study of black palms that Zdenek conducted. She actually lived in the bush with the birds and got to know them personally over her many months of study, learning their individual calls and behaviors. “I could tell when a bird was calling,” she said. “I’d say, ‘Oh, that’s Charlie,’ or another bird. I’d find out later I was correct.”

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She also had a favorite bird too. “One of the birds had an identifiable feature on the right side of his upper beak, which was ring-shaped. He was a really good drummer too, so I called him Ringo, after Ringo Starr,” she said. The birds got to know her too, Zdenek believes, as they often let her get closer to them than her short-term volunteers. For some that can be hard to believe, but Zdenek thinks it’s a sign of how intelligent palmies are. “It’s not unreasonable or boasting thing for me to say the birds recognize me,” she explained. “There’s actually a good argument and evidence to show that that is quite possible. Individual identification has been shown across of multiple birds of higher intelligence levels, of which palms are part of.” While learning the birds personally, Zdenek was also identifying individuals for her research through photos and videos. This helped her eventually realize the individualistic beats each male had when drumming but examining her data proved it. “The extreme differences were obvious; the subtle differences less so. That required extensive analysis and statistics in order to unravel.”

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That research led her to conclude that the males drumming was, as Zdenek and her fellow researchers wrote in their study, “consistent with a further distinguishing feature of human music, in which performances typically entail repertoires of identifiable phrases or components within the performance,” and also that, “individual male palm cockatoos have their own consistent drumming patterns ... in strong analogy to human musicians and composers who show distinct individual styles in

the timing of musical notes.” This is an important discovery, as it gives us more clues into how we ourselves might have started making music. However, the greater discovery, Zdenek points out, is that “this is the only known example of a nonhuman animal using a tool in order to make a beat.” On the surface, that statement might not seem like much. In my opinion, however, it’s game-changing. It might be one of those discoveries that change how people everywhere think about

these birds. Zdenek indirectly made this point when she cited Jane Goodall and her more than 60 years of work with chimpanzees as an example. “She was the first to discover tool use in nonhuman animals, and it changed the world. Before that, people thought tool use separated humans from nonhuman animals,” Zdenek said. “Her supervisor at the time, Louis Leakey, was famously quoted after seeing her research saying, ‘Now we must redefine man, redefine

Why Hollows Are So Important to Palm Cockatoos Having the right hollow is crucial to so many breeding parrots, but for palm cockatoos, it’s taken to a whole other level. Since palm cockatoos are only able to successfully raise and fledge a chick once every 10 years on average, having a safe space for that chick is critical. That means there’s high competition for the perfect hollow. That’s according Christina N. Zdenek, BSc., MSc., a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Queensland School of Biological Sciences in Australia and the world’s foremost expert on black palm cockatoos. She said palm cockatoos desire rare, high-quality, very old hollows. “I say very old because they are really big and vertically piped huge trees that are 100 years old and also happened to have the right conditions along the way to form that perfect hollow,” she explained. Zdenek explained that the trees would have been snapped by cyclones in such a way to as not sacrifice the integrity too much. Then the tree would have had to had a survived a fire, but also received a fire scar on the base of the tree. That scar would then opened up the tree enough so termites could get in via that small opening and then start working their way up the way of the trunk. The termites would turn the center of the tree into a mud gut, and then over time, everything would be washed away but the hard materials. At that point, it is prime palm cockatoo real estate. “All these circumstances need to be right in order to create the perfect palm cockatoo hollow,” Zdenek said. “So when it is a good one, it is heavily sought

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after and these birds will fight to the death over it.” She hasn’t seen any birds die over hollow fights, but she’s seen situations where it could have turned deadly. “They will go to the extremes in order to secure ownership of what they view as a good hollow,” Zdenek said. “Without the hollow, of course, they cannot breed. They do not make a nest like most other birds. They require a higher level of intact ecology in order to persist.”

tools, or accept chimpanzees as humans.’” It certainly should make us question if making music is inherently a human trait, or at least make us realize we’re more like parrots than we thought. It also begs the question: What more can palm cockatoos teach us?


denek thinks palm cockatoos have a lot to teach us not only how intelligent they are, but TOP’s Parrot Ad might be other alsoFood how there Birdtypes TalkofMay/June intelligence. She cited Harvard professor Dr. Howard Gardner and his Theory of Multiple Intelligences, which basically states that there are up to 8 different types of intelligence. Those intelligences include logical-mathematical, linguistic, intrapersonal, interpersonal, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, visual-spatial and naturalist. In some areas of intelligence, we can’t even compete with birds. “Look at the visual-spatial intelligences of grackles,” Zdenek said. “Being able to remember the exact locations of more than 3,000 different morsels of food

“That’s why we say palms process key hallmarks of fundamental music. Certainly humans have taken it much further than that, but the foundation of [black palms] keeping a beat and that beat being different from other individuals is remarkable.” that they hide in the ground? As if I could do that! Compare me and my visual-spatial intelligence to that bird, and that bird wins any day. Then you look at naturalist intelligence, the understanding things and reading nature, and birds win there as well.” Palm cockatoos themselves most likely have interpersonal intelligence, or the intelligence to read others, with the use of tools to create beats to communicate something to their mates. (More on that later.) “They’re using

the tool in a non-foraging context,” Zdenek said. “They acquire no tasty beats, no caloric benefit for this tool use. It’s not unique, but it’s an unusual form of tool use in a social context.” And of course, palm cockatoos probably have musical intelligence, too. “[That intelligence] is defined by discerning sounds like pitch, tone and rhythm,” Zdenek said. “It’s somewhat conjecture to make that leap, but the fact that they do have individualistic beats and the bird can keep a rhythm — there’s likely

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some musical intelligence there.” That at least adds to Zdenek’s overall research about palm cockatoos and music. “That’s why we say palms process key hallmarks of fundamental music,” she said. “Certainly humans have taken it much further than that, but the foundation of [black palm] keeping a beat and that beat being different than other individuals is remarkable.” It’ll probably take many years of study to truly determine that black palm cockatoos have musical intelligence. And there’s so much about black palm cockatoos that we probably know nothing about yet either. “There’s still so much we have yet to uncover, I’m sure of it,” Zdenek said. “Although I spent 27 full-time months researching and living with them, I still feel I’m at the tip of the iceberg. They’re really complex creatures and, given their high level of intelligence, I think there’s a lot more to these birds and their memories that would be uncovered the longer we can identify individuals over longer periods of time.” Time will only tell what else palm cockatoos have to teach us about themselves and humans in general.


f course, all this talk about intelligence doesn’t tell us why black palm cockatoos drum to begin with. The answer to that is a little speculative, but as someone who has lived with these birds and knows them so well, Zdenek has some good theories.

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Black Palm Cockatoo Native Habitat There are four subspecies of palm cockatoos — P.a. aterrimus, P.a. goliath, P.a. stenolophus and P.a. macgillivrayi – and their native range cover parts of Indonesia, Australia and New Guinea.


Banda Sea

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P.a. aterrimus, P.a. goliatha P.a. stenolophus P.a. macgillivrayi

Coral Sea


Most people think that males drum to attract females, but that’s misleading, Zdenek said. “There’s more to the picture than that. If you look at parrots and palm cockatoos, they’re monogamous, and they will breed with the same

partner for life. What I think is more likely going on there is that they are trying to time the breeding correctly.” That’s because palm cockatoos are the exact opposite of prolific breeders. In fact, it seems they have difficulty breeding, Zdenek explained. Not only do palm cockatoos only lay one egg during the breeding season, more often than not, those eggs are infertile. This low fertility rate means that one palm cockatoo pair will successfully fledge a chick once every 10 years, on average. So back to the drumming: Zdenek believes that the male cockatoo might be saying several things in that beat. One, that he’s ready to breed: He’s got the right hormones flowing through him to successfully fertilize an egg. Two, that their hollow is ready to go. It’s not going to blow over in the next cyclone or burn down in the next fire. (If you only have one chick every 10 years, you want assurances your home is safe for them, right?) What happens next was beautifully described in the New York Times article, “Drumming Cockatoos and the

Rhythms of Love”: A palm cockatoo drumming performance starts with instrument fashioning — an opportunity to show off beak strength and cleverness (the birds are incredibly intelligent). Often, as a female is watching, a male will ostentatiously break a hefty stick off a tree and trim it to about the length of a pencil. Holding the stick, or occasionally a hard seedpod, with his left foot (parrots are typically left-footed), the male taps a beat on his tree perch. Occasionally he mixes in a whistle or other sounds from an impressive repertoire of around 20 syllables. As he

One palm cockatoo pair will successfully fledge a chick once every 10 years, on average. grows more aroused, the crest feathers on his head become erect. Spreading his wings, he pirouettes and bobs his head deeply, like an expressive pianist. He uncovers his red cheek patches — the only swaths of color on his otherwise black body — and they fill with blood, brightening like a blush. If a male is delivering an effective performance, the female comes over and mirrors his movements. The birds sway together and gently preen each other’s feathers, an act of pair-bonding that helps them prepare for breeding. If the female responds positively, that signals to the male that “now is the time to breed, we’re ready to go, let’s get the timing right,” Zdenek said. While drumming may mainly be used to synchronize breeding, male palm cockatoos might also be using these individualistic beats and vocalizations to tell other males that this is my territory and this is who I am, Zdenek said. (See the sidebar, “Why Hollows Are So Important to Palm Cockatoos” for more information.) So how did drumming begin in palm cockatoos? As mentioned at the beginning of the article, only the Cape York black palms drum — it’s never been seen in the New Guinea palms. Zdenek said that we can rule out drumming being a biological imperative, since only

Cape York palms do it. “It’s a behavior they’re not born with. It’s a learned feature,” she said. “I’ve certainly seen young palms sitting and watching drumming displays.” It might be a cultural difference between the two groups of palms. And Zdenek believes it’s an important part of their culture too. “It could have been just one bright spark in the population,” Zdenek said. “When one male was bringing sticks to the hollow in order to create a nesting platform in the hollow, perhaps he got a bit excited. Rather than tapping his foot like other cockatoos do, he started to bang that stick against the hollow.” When he saw a positive reaction from the female, then he was able to

change his behavior and do that again, Zdenek said. Then he probably refined it to a point to where that female became very receptive to it. Other males could have watched and seen the benefits that one male received and it became part of the culture. “That’s how I imagine how it started,” Zdenek said. “It was a cultural evolution from foot stomping. Stars needed to align for this to happen, and they did, and what a wonderful thing that we have this and it occurs in the world.” • To learn more about Christina N. Zdenek and her work, visit

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Birds are an incredibly diverse class of animals, having mastered to survive in almost all the corners of the globe.

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Flight Club

Meet the scientists unraveling the mysteries of bird flight.


By Alex Evans

umanity has long been fascinated with the mastery with which birds have taken to the skies. However, our understanding of the intricate biomechanics and aerodynamics at work still has enough gaping holes to entice scientists into this exciting field of research. Here are just a few of their latest bird-based breakthroughs. THE POWER OF PARROTS Studying bird flight in the wild is the dream of many fledgling ornithologists, but some of nature’s mysteries are best solved in a more controlled environment. Wind tunnels and flight arenas are exciting tools in the ornithologist’s arsenal, allowing scientists to replicate bird flight under a range of experimental conditions that allow for the detailed analysis of wingbeat cycles, flight behavior, flight aerodynamics and the energy requirements of flight. When choosing the appropriate birds for flight research, it may not come as a surprise that parrots are often the first choice for many scientists. Besides their undeniable beauty and

charm, the intelligence and amiability of smaller parrots make them ideal candidates for training to perform certain flight behaviors. This may be flying at set speeds for a set amount of time or even simply performing short flights from one perch to another. The Lentink Lab at Stanford University in California is one of the leading research facilities in the world for all things associated with bird flight. Some of their recent work includes analyzing the forces required for parrots to hop between branches, understanding the role that lovebird vision plays in fast maneuvering flights, and even the creation of miniature flight goggles for parrotlets to protect their eyes from the light beams used for aerodynamic research.

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The combined navigational skills of multiple pigeons can calculate more efficient homing routes through a process called “collective intelligence.”

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NAVIGATING NATURE: HOMING PIGEONS As any student driver can attest to, learning how to get from A to B isn’t as simple as it may first seem, but repeated practice is the road to perfection. As it turns out, this is also true for homing pigeons that are learning new flight routes. Lucy Taylor, a Ph.D. student at the University of Oxford in the U.K. recently published new research into the relationship between avian navigation and flight behavior. Along with Dr. Dora Biro, an expert on avian navigation and cognition, and Dr. Steve Portugal, an expert in bird biomechanics and behavior, the team aimed to discover how the pigeon’s flight wing beat cycles would change when navigating new routes. “When I think about how I move when I am navigating, I move differently if I am not sure where I am going compared to walking a known route,” Taylor said. “Although it is not possible for [homing pigeons] to stop and look at a map, we hypothesized that they may change the way they fly depending on

their knowledge of the landscape.” By placing GPS trackers and accelerometry biologgers on the backs of the birds, Taylor and the team were able to track both the location of the birds and the movements of their wings. Once the birds had returned home to their loft, their biologgers were collected and both their flight routes and wing beat patterns were analyzed. “We found that as birds’ routes became increasingly efficient over the course of their first six releases from a given site,” Taylor said. “They also flew at increasingly higher airspeeds, suggesting that birds fly slower when traversing unfamiliar terrain.” These characteristics suggest that the birds fall into a signature pattern of flight as they become more familiar with the route. “This can provide us with completely new insights into the decision-making and navigational strategies of birds,” Taylor said. Building on their latest results, Taylor and her team would like to see how this development of flight behavior is affected by flight in groups. Previous research into pigeon flight has shown that


Homing Pigeon

grouped flocking flight is not only safer than solo flights, but the combined navigational skills of multiple pigeons can calculate more efficient homing routes through a process called “collective intelligence.” However, it isn’t currently known if this holds true when faced with new navigational challenges.


PUSHING THE LIMIT: BAR-HEADED GEESE Birds are an incredibly diverse class of animals, having mastered to survive in almost all the corners of the globe. A large part of their success comes from the wide and varied range of behavioral and physiological adaptations that have allowed them to become masters of their environment. For some species, these adaptations are pushed right to the extreme. One such species, the bar-headed geese, is renowned for its impressive high-altitude migrations through the Himalayan mountains. Reaching staggering heights of more than 16,404 feet (5,000 meters), these migrations take the birds through layers of the

Bar-headed goose

“Even when flying higher than 16,000 feet, we were able to show that wild geese weren’t working anywhere near their maximum heart rates.”

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Wandering albatrosses spend the vast majority of their lives in flight.

Bar-headed goose

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atmosphere with temperatures regularly below 14 degrees Fahrenheit (negative 10 degrees Celsius) and with only 50 percent of the oxygen found at sea level. For humans, survival in these conditions is near impossible, so how do these birds tackle such a momentous feat of endurance in one of the harshest environments on Earth? This is a question that Dr. Lucy

Hawkes and a team of researchers from the University of Exeter, U.K., desperately wanted to answer. Specifically, the team wanted to know exactly where these birds traveled during this migration, and how they were achieving it. “The project used lots of different tracking technologies, such as heart rate logging, accelerometry and GPS tracking,” Hawkes explained. “It’s not very often you see such an exciting set of skills and approaches in a single project like this!” Past research has shown that barheaded geese have developed different blood flow and breathing patterns that provide a much more efficient oxygen transport system, but this is the first time that their migratory flights have been investigated in detail. It was once believed that these geese were able to fly over the summit of Mount Everest itself, but the work undertaken by Hawkes and her team found this to be nothing more than a very tall tale. “The tags showed that the geese are actually quite smart,” Hawkes said. “They will travel through a valley wherever possible to avoid high altitude”. Hawkes and her team also worked with bar-headed geese using treadmill exercise tests under low oxygen conditions to measure the effects of exercise in environmental conditions similar to those found on Mount Everest.


Wandering albatross

“[Peregrine falcons] are such sleek and formidable predators, so watching them chase down our aerial target was a real thrill.” Together with her wild flight data, her experiments have put together great insights into the flight capabilities of these amazing animals. If that wasn’t impressive enough, Hawkes and her team also found that the geese don’t even need to put in any extra hours at the gym in preparation for this feat of flight. “Using accelerometry loggers like an animal Fitbit, we were able to show that bar-headed geese don’t seem to undertake any training prior to migration,” Hawkes said. “It’s like they just rock up to a marathon race without training and ace it.” There is still much to learn about the migratory flights of these amazing aeronauts, including their possible use of

formation flight strategies to save energy and how they pick their preferred flight routes. “There will always be something that captivates us about animals that can undertake feats that we can only marvel at,” Hawkes concluded. SOARING SUCCESS: ALBATROSS FLIGHT PATTERNS Wandering albatrosses spend the vast majority of their lives in flight and are renowned for their ability to fly easily over the ocean waves thanks to their staggering 11-feet wingspan. But it’s not just their bodies that are specially adapted for these oceanic voyages, it’s also their behavior. Specifically, their mastery of a

technique called “dynamic soaring,” which allows them to harvest energy from the wind and fly almost indefinitely without spending energy. Recent research into the dynamic soaring of albatrosses by Dr. Gabriel Bousquet and his team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., has revealed this, overturning what has previously been believed about albatross flight for more than 100 years. During dynamic soaring, the albatrosses will perform a zig-zag flight pattern by alternating their flights up and down between two layers of airflow and a section where these layers meet called the “boundary layer.” “Consider the albatross as a tennis ball, with the wind as a racket and the boundary air layer as a wall,” Bousquet explained. “The racket gives momentum to the ball when they meet, and the ball is able to bounce off the wall back to the racket, meaning that the ball can move indefinitely using just the energy provided by the racket.” For over a century, it was thought that albatrosses flew in a forward and backward pattern with strict 180-degree

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Peregrine Falcon

34 • B IR D TA LK • JUNE/JULY 2018

search-and-rescue aids. “There is still a big gap between the flight performance of birds and engineered systems,” Bousquet said. “But I expect that in the next decade, a lot of ideas from biological systems will find their way into engineered systems.” ALL IN THE CHASE Getting from A to B at a leisurely pace might be fine and dandy for homing pigeons, but it’s a completely different story when your target destination also has wings and a strong preference against being eaten. Peregrine falcons are one of the planet’s most successful predators, reaching top flight speeds of 250 miles per hour and occupying every continent on the planet apart from Antarctica. Exactly how these raptors are able to target and track their quarry was previously a mystery, until recent research by Dr. Caroline Brighton and a team from Oxford University revealed new insights into their impressive hunting flight behaviors. “Very little research had been carried out on free-flying birds of prey, due to the difficulties associated with


Peregrine falcons are one of the planet’s most successful predators, reaching top flight speeds of 250 miles per hour and occupying almost every continent on the planet.

U-turns, and this pattern has been used in mathematical models of albatross flight until very recently. However, using computer simulations and GPS data from real albatross flights, Bousquet successfully crafted a much clearer picture of this phenomenon. Instead of big 180-degree U-turns, the albatrosses are using much shorter and sharper turns that reduce the wind required for dynamic soaring by more than 35 percent, which makes for a much more efficient flight strategy than previously believed. In fact, Bousquet’s results suggest that for an albatross, it is much cheaper energetically to soar above the waves than to walk around on land. But Bousquet’s interest in dynamic soaring doesn’t end with the albatrosses. Along with his team, he hopes to design bio-inspired flying machines to harness the energy-efficient flight behaviors of the wandering albatross. These wind-powered robotic drones that could use dynamic soaring strategies to fly great distances without the need to recharge their batteries. These would be useful for gathering weather data, anticipating hurricanes or even as

recording their wide-ranging flight trajectories,” Brighton explained. Peregrine falcons are famous for their incredible high-speed hunting dives that are performed with pinpoint precision, even when their targets are on the move. “Peregrines have great eyesight and very good soaring abilities, as they can gain great heights by using thermals, from where they launch their attack,” Brighton said. However, it’s still not an easy task to pluck pigeons from the sky, as peregrines face many challenges during their high-speed hunting pursuits, namely calculating the appropriate flight pattern to catch their dinner while it attempts to fly away, and overcoming the enormous G-forces produced during their steep dive. In order to learn how the falcons homed in on their targets, Brighton and the team attached GPS trackers and small cameras to backpack-style harnesses worn by the falcons. The birds then chased down either a stationary lure or a moving aerial target lure attached to a remote-controlled airplane. By tracking the position of both the falcon and the lure, the team were able to analyze how the falcon maneuvered during the hunt.

“It was amazing to get up close to the falcons,” Brighton said, “They are such sleek and formidable predators, so watching them chase down our aerial target was a real thrill.” Brighton and her team are the first the identify the guidance laws used by aerial predators to hunt their prey; in this case, a law known as “proportional navigation.” This guidance law is already known about as it happens to be the same guidance law used in missile engineering — showing how humans and peregrine falcons have converged on the same solution. The same guidance law can be used in visually guided airborne drones that need to efficiently track and intercept targets such as other drones. Building on their current research, Brighton and the team hope to find out how other bird of prey home in on their targets, and how the birds interpret their visual input into useful tracking information. • Alex Evans is a Ph.D. student at the University of Leeds investigating the energetics of animal flight. In his spare time, Evans enjoys writing about the natural world, exploring new avenues of science communication and watching parrot videos.

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Summer Fruit & Vegetable Guide

There are a number of fruits and vegetables in season during the summer. Which one will be your bird’s favorite? By Jessica Pineda

SUMMER FRUITS While fruits are a great source of vitamins and minerals, they are also high in sugar. Talk to your avian veterinarian about the proper amount of fruits for your bird. Most of these foods can be served raw or dried. If you do serve dried, feed dried fruits that are sulfite-, pesticideand preservative-free. APRICOTS These fruits are a great

source of vitamin A, potassium, iron, calcium, silicon, phosphorus and vitamin C. When serving your parrot, remove the pit from fruit, and don’t let your bird chew on the leaves or branches. They can be poisonous, and the pit contains cyanide.

BANANAS: Who doesn’t love bananas? These fruits are high in potassium and seem to be a universal favorite of birds everywhere. BLACKBERRIES: These fruits are high

in Vitamin C and potassium. While super nutritious, think about feeding these in an area that is easy to clean. When your bird throws little blackberry bits around, it’ll be easier to scrub it off without staining. BLUEBERRIES: Blueberries are a good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C. Much like blackberries, feed these to your bird in a place that is easy to clean. CANTALOUPE: Cantaloupe is a great source of vitamin A, C and folate. Feed the fruit part only. 36 • B IR D TA LK • JUNE/JULY 2018

GRAPES: Birds love grapes, both eating the fruit and the skin. HONEYDEW MELON: This fruit is high

in vitamin C. As with the cantaloupe, feed the fruit part only.

KIWI: These fuzzy fruits are high in

vitamin C, E and potassium. Feed the fruit part only.

MANGOES: Mangoes

are high in vitamin A and C. Feed the fruit part only. There’s some debate if the pit of the mango is actually toxic to animals; however, to be safe, don’t let your bird eat it. NECTARINES: These fruits are a great source of vitamin C. Like apricots, remove the pits and don’t let your bird have access to the leaves or branches. PEACHES: These fruits are a great

source of vitamin C. Like apricots and nectarines, remove the pits and don’t let your bird have access to the leaves or branches.

PLUMS: These fruits are a great source

of vitamin C. Like apricots, peaches and nectarines, remove the pits and don’t let your bird have access to the leaves or branches.

RASPBERRIES: Raspberries are high in

vitamin C and a great source of dietary fiber. Much like blackberries and blueberries, feed these to your bird in a place that is easy to clean.


much-loved fruits are a good source of vitamin C, manganese and potassium. Much like the other berries, feed these to your bird in a place that is easy to clean.

WATERMELON: These big fruits are

a great source of vitamins A, C and potassium.


SUMMER VEGETABLES Avian veterinarians everywhere agree: vegetables are a great part of a balanced bird diet. Most of these vegetables can be served raw, dry or cooked, though hold the salt and seasoning if you do. Use sulfite-, pesticide- and preservative-free vegetables too. BEETS: Beets are a great source of

folate, potassium and vitamin C. Feed both the main vegetable and the greens.

BELL PEPPERS: I’m not sure if birds

to other vegetables, it doesn’t have same nutritional value so consider feeding other types of vegetables first. CUCUMBERS: A great source of vitamin C and easy to feed your bird. Just slice them up and hand one over to your bird. LETTUCE: Iceberg lettuce doesn’t have

a lot of nutrients, but other lettuce types, like romaine, are high in vitamin A and folates.


Many birds love holding these in their feet and chewing through them to get the bean inside. They are a great source of fiber and vitamin C.

OKRA: These vegetables are a great

source of vitamin C, folate, magnesium and fiber.

PEAS: Peas are a great source of vitamin

A, C, folate and dietary fiber. You’ll love watching your bird smash his beak into one.

have a love for spicy food, but they won’t even blink snacking on a bell pepper. They are also a great source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, potassium, folic acid and fiber.

RADISHES: These crisp, crunchy vegetables are high in vitamin C.

CABBAGE: Whether it’s green or purple, cabbage is a great source of vitamin C and K.

SPINACH: You can’t go wrong with this vegetables. They are high in vitamin A, C, fiber, iron, folates and magnesium.

COLLARD GREENS: Kale’s healthy cousin, collard greens are a great source of vitamin A, C and folate, along with calcium and fiber.

SUMMER SQUASH/ZUCCHINI: These vegetables can’t compare to their autumn squash counterparts, but they are still a good source of vitamin C. Leave the peel on since that is where all the nutrients are. •

CORN: Corn seems to be another

universal favorite for birds. Compared

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5 Common Questions About Bird Cages How to choose a home for your bird that pleases your pet and make housekeeping easy for you. By Fran Sturms

38 • B IR D TALK • JUNE/JULY 2018


hen it comes to housing pet birds, the selections are almost overwhelming. Should you get a cage with a perch on top, or choose a decorative arch or shaped design? Is the cage suitable for the bird you have or wish to purchase? How big should it be? Most importantly, will it fit in the spot you have designated for it? These are all important questions to ask when buying a new cage. Here are five other questions to answer too. WHAT IS THE BEST BIRD CAGE TO BUY? The biggest one that’ll fit comfortably in your home, of course! The rule of thumb used to be that the cage should be wider than the wingspan of the bird. For example, if the bird were to fully extend both wings, they should not touch the sides and should have room to spare. However, larger cages are best, because your bird will like to flap and exercise inside and outside of his cage. His feathers will stay smooth and be less likely damaged from contact with the bars. Some birds need tall cages too, such as ring-necked parakeets and macaws. The extra length accommodates their long tail feathers.


WHAT ARE THE PROPER CAGE SIZES? Small Birds: If you are the owner of finches, canaries, parakeets, lovebirds, parrotlets, cockatiels or smaller conures, there is a large selection of wire cages available to you. There isn’t a larger selection of powder coated variety of cages because the bar spacing is usually

too wide. Bar spacing for smaller birds is typically around ½ inches to 5/8 inches. Because smaller birds travel mostly horizontally or left to right, it is better to look for a cage that is wider than it is tall. For example, a cage that is 30 inches wide and 18 inches tall is actually better than a cage that is 18 inches wide and 30 inches tall. Unfortunately, many small bird cages are so tiny they are detrimental to the bird’s health, because smaller cages do not promote her to exercise and tend to get dirty quickly. A larger cage is much easier to keep clean, and is better for the overall health of the bird. The average small bird cage is 24 inches wide by 18 inches deep by 18 inches tall. Medium-Sized Birds: African greys, Amazons, Eclectus, small cockatoos, mini macaws, lorikeets, Pionus and other small to medium-sized birds typically do well in a cage with ½ inches to 5/8 inches and sometimes ¾ inch bar spacing. These birds do well in a cage that is at least 30-inches wide and 24 inches or more in height. Large Birds: Cockatoos, Amazons, toucans and the larger macaws require approximately ¾ inch- to 1 ¼-inch-bar

JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI R D TA L K • 39

Whose idea was it to buy a new cage anyway? After more than 30 years in the retail pet bird business, I have learned a lot about what a bird and his owner like when selecting a new cage. The biggest mistake I see is when a bird owner brings home a new cage, takes away the old cage and then expects the bird to accept the new cage without any hesitation. The thing we tend to forget is that it was our idea to buy a new cage, and not our bird’s. Birds need time to adjust to change, and the best way to acclimate a bird to a new cage is gradual.

my customers have called me to let me know their bird loved her new cage and they were able to move the old cage out right away. The important thing to remember is to watch your bird for his reaction and try to be sensitive to his needs.

spacing, and a thicker gauge of wire to prevent the bird from breaking the bars. Encourage lots of activity in and around the cage by getting a cage that is a minimum size of 36 inches by 28 inches by 66 inches. Important note: Check the cage from top to bottom for any inconsistencies in bar spacing. Sometimes with archtops or decorative designs, there are gaps or areas where a bird can get stuck. WHAT IS THE EASIEST CAGE TO CLEAN? Rule of thumb: The bigger the cage, the easier it is to clean. How often should you clean a cage? Wipe down or wash your cage on a regular basis to avoid dirt and dust build-up and to keep the cage and the perches clean. A dirty cage, dirty grate (the bottom rack) and dirty bowls can 40 • B IR D TALK • JUNE/JULY 2018

lead to a sick bird, so wash your food and water bowls every day with soap and hot water, rinse thoroughly and dry the food dish before filling it. I always recommend buying a second set of food bowls so cleaning is easier and done more efficiently. Most cages now feature metal or plastic bowls, since ceramic dishes break easily and are more expensive. Once ceramic bowls develop cracks they should be thrown away to prevent the growth of bacteria. Cleaning the cage? Do not use any abrasive sponges or wire brushes, as these can damage the paint and/or surface of the cage. A soft sponge or cloth works well, and a soft toothbrush for the crevices often helps. Cages should be cleaned only with a mild soap such as Dawn original blue dish soap diluted with water, or a mild vinegar-and-water solution. There are

also many nontoxic cage cleaners available that are good at loosening dirt and debris. My two favorites are EnviroClean and Aviclean, as both do not require rinsing. Never use disinfectant wipes, pine cleaner or other strong cleaners around your bird or on the cages because they contain harsh chemicals that can make your bird very ill, or even worse could kill him. WHERE SHOULD I LOOK FOR A NEW CAGE? Stop by your local bird store or pet store and see what cages they offer. It’s difficult for a store to stock a large number of cages because they take up so much room; however, many stores will be happy to show you their catalogs and order the cage of your choice. If you live in an upstairs townhouse or need to put the cage in a small car, you may wish


So how should you introduce a new cage to your bird? Set the new cage next to your bird’s current cage, and gradually let the bird explore it. If the new cage is a completely different color it may take even longer for the bird to get used to it. If a bird is old and has had the same cage all of his life, I recommend the customer not buy a new cage, because it could be too traumatic for the bird. Most birds adapt to new cages fairly quickly (over one to two weeks), and several of

to take home the cage unassembled in the box. Most cages are fairly simple to assemble, but if you don’t want to put one together, be sure to specify that you will need the cage assembled. If the cage model includes a metal skirt or apron around the bottom, wait to install that portion of the cage until you get it home, or it could be damaged in transit. (Plus the cage is easier to load without the apron around it). Most cage manufacturers rely on their distributors and pet stores to sell their cages to the public. As a small business owner, I encourage you to first check with your local bird store and see if they can help you find what you are looking for: They will appreciate your business, and they will stand behind the products they sell. If you live in a rural area without a local pet store, you might need to order a cage online. The advantage to ordering a cage in person at a store is that you’ll have the guidance of an experienced staff member with the proper knowledge of bar spacing, cage size and proper perch placement.


• Don’t just place your bird in a new cage. A slow introduction to a new cage works better when you are replacing your bird’s cage. (See the sidebar, “Whose idea was it to buy a new cage anyway?”)

• Mild cage cleaners and soft towels and sponges are best to keep your cage looking new.

• A clean cage helps prevent illness and disease.

• Pet bird cages are designed to be used indoors, not outdoors. If you leave a bird cage outdoors in the moist air or rain, it will develop rust. There are different materials for outdoor aviaries that are weatherproof.

• Your cage(s) are like furniture: pick

something you like, that is functional for your bird and easy to service and clean.

JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI R D TA L K • 41


• Natural wood perches: Either short peg perches or full side-to-side perches. Manzanita can be a little slippery for some birds, so consider a softer wood such as Madrone (also known as ribbonwood), maple, pine, oak or Eucalyptus. Cedar is not recommended for birds as it can be toxic due to being too aromatic. • Rope perches: These perches are great for older birds, birds with arthritis and baby birds. The rope texture is soft on a bird’s feet and helps prevent calluses on the undersides of his feet. 42 • B IR D TALK • JUNE/JULY 2018

How Do I Repaint an Old Cage? Looking to repaint an older cage? Some older cages actually very well made, many were made in Mexico with expert craftsmanship and solid welded wrought-iron, which makes them less prone to rust and much easier to refurbish. (Ensure it is wrought-iron so you don’t expose your bird to zinc or other heavy metals.) You can repaint an old cage, using any water-based paint or spray paint that is safe for children’s furniture. The best way to paint a cage is to take it to a professional powder coating company where they will sandblast and remove all the old paint and then powder coat to make your cage look brand new. There are many older brands of cages that are so well made I often refer my customers to a local powder coater to give their cage a fresh look. You will need to move your bird to a temporary cage for a week or two while the cage is being serviced.


Many cages are simply packaged with 2 to 4 food bowls and two simple dowel-type perches. To encourage your bird to use all of the space in his cage I recommend you also invest in some (or all) of the following items:


• Swing and boing perch: A simple swing is like a rocking chair to us: it is relaxing to rock back and forth, and birds often like to swing. The boing perch bounces when the birds sit on it, and it mimics a branch on a tree swinging in the breeze. • Bedding or cage paper for the tray: I prefer using paper on the bottom of the cage because it is easy to roll up and throw away when it gets dirty. You can use clean newspaper, order plain newsprint paper or buy a roll of white butcher paper at a grocery warehouse. If you have smaller bird cages you might prefer using paper towels on the bottom. If you like the look of bedding in your trays, there is bird-safe bedding such as Carefresh that are popular. I recommend a thin layer of paper under the bedding to absorb any extra liquids, which also makes it easier to clean up. Don’t let your bird have access to the bedding. Once bedding gets wet you must replace it as soon as you can, so it doesn’t become moldy. Dump and replace your bedding material often, or

it can become a breeding ground for moths. I have allergies to dust so I prefer to simply use paper. • Cage cover: Birds do not have to be covered at night; if you stay up late and your bird would benefit from a cover at bedtime, use a clean sheet or cotton fabric cover. Do not use a fuzzy blanket or towel: it could have tiny fibers that could become wrapped around your bird’s toes. Don’t forget to wash your bird’s cage cover at least once a week, as they quickly get dusty! Use unscented laundry detergent and unscented fabric softeners to clean them, as birds can be sensitive to scented products. • Seed skirt: Small cages can be fitted with a netting or fabric “skirt” that fits around the bottom of the cage to reduce debris outside of the cage. Large, wrought-iron cages often feature a custom metal skirt or apron made to match the cage,

which can be removed if you do not wish to use it. Local baby stores sell peel and press-on rubber corner guards that work great on these cage apron corners, too. • Fran Sturms has worked with exotic birds for more than 30 years. In addition, Fran was an assistant editor for Bird Talk Magazine and a frequent contributor to the magazine, as well as Pet Product News. She is a published author of two books: Breeding Exotic Birds - A Beginner’s Guide, and African Greys. Strums owns a specialty bird store, Exotic Birds by Fran, in Cypress, Calif., and also has a mobile grooming service just for birds.

JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 43

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The Latest in Avian Health & Nutrition Old avian health problems have new solutions. By Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian Practice)



y toucan jumped off his perch last night, and he’s limping now. I think he broke his leg.” This is what I heard from a bird owner 24 years ago after I had just graduated from veterinary school. I was working in New York City at the Animal Medical Center — perhaps the largest veterinary hospital in the world at that time — completing my internship in small animal medicine and surgery. While growing up in Manhattan, I had owned birds and other exotic pets, and I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian from the time I was 15 years old. I had always planned to be an internal medicine specialist for cats and dogs, however. This all changed when birds, rabbits, rodents, reptiles, ferrets and other “unusual” pets were brought into the animal hospital for me to treat. In veterinary school, I had about a week’s worth of learning about these uncommon species. Now, suddenly, as a new veterinarian, I was expected to know how to examine, diagnose, and cure every ailment these species might suffer from. During my year at the Center, I spent five weeks working with the Avian and Exotics Service, where I got a chance to learn all about these incredible animals, and from there, my love of birds and exotic pets began. Now, 24 years later, I am a board-certified avian veterinarian and owner of an all-avian and exotic pet hospital in Westchester County, N.Y., where I and two other veterinarians treat nothing but birds and exotic pets — no dogs or

cats — six days a week. Since my internship, I have cared for various species of exotic pets — from birds to bunnies to sugar gliders, hedgehogs, and pot-bellied pigs — and I have been fortunate to have helped numerous different kinds of creatures, and to have developed incredible relationships with their owners who adore them. I have accumulated so many heartwarming, touching, sometimes unbelievable stories about these pets and their caregivers, that my friends and family kept telling me to write these experiences down. So, in 2016, I approached a publishing company, and with the help of a seasoned, best-selling author, I wrote a book — “ Unlikely Companions: The Adventures of an Exotic Animal Doctor” — in which I share my experiences as a veterinarian from my internship to the present. The book is a compilation of my most memorable veterinary stories, along with a mystery about the death of sugar gliders in the U.S. a few years ago and how I helped solve it. HOW TREATING AVIAN DISEASES HAS CHANGED Since my internship, a great deal has changed in avian and exotic animal medicine. Exotic animal veterinarians have new treatments for many previously serious diseases, while new diseases have arisen to challenge us. Our knowledge of avian and exotic pet nutrition has advanced, and we are now able to prevent many nutrition-based illnesses that once caused critical

problems. Some of the problems avian and exotic animal veterinarians and pet owners face today are the same as in the past, but many are new. As I write this article, I am no longer the new veterinarian dealing the toucan with the broken leg. Now I’m an older veterinarian, facing fresh challenges in my field. I would like to share with you some specific, significant changes that have taken place in the field of avian health and nutrition, so that you, too, can become aware of the progress that has taken place over the past few years in improving the lives of our incredible pet birds. THE LATEST TREATMENTS FOR REPRODUCTIVE DISEASE Birds have always laid eggs, and sometimes when they do, they get into trouble. Wild birds are exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, which is critical in forming vitamin D in their skin that enables them to draw calcium out of their food to help them form calcium-rich eggshells. Wild birds also eat a nutritionally balanced variety of food that provides them not only with calcium required for egg-laying but also with proteins, fat and other nutrients essential for egg-formation and laying. Pet birds, however, often have no exposure to UV light other than what is coming through a window that filters out UVB rays crucial for vitamin D formation. In addition, many pet birds eat high-fat, nutrient-poor seedonly diets that lack calcium and other JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI R D TA L K • 45

Not all disease can be prevented; many illnesses develop in healthy people and animals as a result of a genetic predisposition or environmental factors. However, just as in people, in birds, the chance that illnesses develop often can be lessened with proper diet and exercise.

46 • B IR D TA LK • JUNE/JULY 2018

nutrients necessary for egg-laying. Without proper vitamin D formation and calcium ingestion, sexually mature pet birds are predisposed to reproductive diseases including egg yolk peritonitis (in which only the egg contents, and not the eggshell, form and get stuck inside the bird, causing inflammation in their abdomens and fluid accumulation there). Other nutrient-deficient pet birds form soft-shelled or cracked eggs that also have difficulty passing out of the bird’s body — a condition called egg-binding. Some nutrient-poor birds form fully shelled eggs that also get stuck inside them. Other birds form follicles on their ovaries that never actually ovulate but that enlarge on the ovarian surface into huge, fluid-filled cysts that press on the birds’ respiratory tracts, compromising their ability to breathe. Calcium is required not only for proper eggshell formation, but also for ovulation of ovarian follicles and for uterine muscle contraction to pass the egg; without adequate UV light exposure and calcium ingestion, pet birds may expend all their bodies’ calcium in forming the eggshell and have none left to ovulate or to contract uterine muscles to expel the egg. TREATING EGG-BOUND BIRDS Without treatment, egg-binding can be life-threatening. Treatment for egg-binding involves administration of vitamin D and calcium to help the bird pass the egg.

If the bird does not pass the egg on her own — especially if the egg is fully shelled and is pressing on the bird’s lungs and other internal organs, making it hard for the bird to breathe or eat — a veterinarian should try to remove the egg through the vent opening (or, if this is unsuccessful, through an incision in the abdomen). These procedures can be risky, especially in small birds that can lose only a small amount of blood without becoming gravely anemic. If an egg-bound bird makes it through such an egg-extraction procedure, previously the only way future egg-binding could be prevented was to remove the bird’s uterus — a procedure called a salpingohysterectomy. Unlike cats and dogs that are routinely spayed to prevent reproductive problems, birds typically are not due to the high risk of life-threatening blood loss and other complications of surgery. With the advent of new hormonal treatments for birds, salpingohysterectomy can often be avoided in birds with egg-related problems. Two new drugs — leuprolide acetate (Lupron Depot) and deslorelin (Supralorelin) — have been revolutionary in treating reproductive problems in birds; they can be administered to birds who have had reproductive problems to help prevent recurrence. As soon as an egg-bound bird passes an egg or has had it surgically removed, the bird can receive a shot of leuprolide acetate to shut down its reproductive


There is a great deal of outdated misinformation still on the Internet about recommended nutrition for birds

cycle. This synthetic hormone is administered to basically fool the bird’s body into thinking it has been mated and to shut down further reproductive activity for 3 to 4 weeks. Deslorelin is a hormonal implant, about the size of a small rice grain, that is implanted under the bird’s skin and basically shuts down the bird’s reproductive cycle for 3 to 6 months, on average. Shutting down the bird’s reproductive cycle for a period of weeks to months while decreasing cues that might trigger breeding is often enough to take the bird out of “reproductive mode” and to temporarily stop further egg-laying. (See sidebar “What Makes a Bird Hormonal?”) Many birds need more than one Lupron shot or successive implants to permanently shut down further reproductive activity. These novel hormones

are generally very safe — with no significant reported complications — and they typically either help the bird or have no impact. They have significantly decreased the necessity for performing potentially life-threatening surgery to prevent further egg laying. HOW DIET HELPS In addition to new hormonal therapies to treat reproductive disease in birds, there are also improved diets available to help prevent it. Avian veterinarians now know that not only must pet birds have direct exposure to sunlight to form active vitamin D in their skin, but they must ingest adequate amounts of calcium in their diets for vitamin D to work properly in calcium absorption. Birds exposed to UV light who JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI R D TA L K • 47

By feeding pellets as the mainstay of their pet birds’ diets, supplemented with only small amounts of other foods such as fresh produce, nuts or seed, bird owners may help prevent the development of serious conditions such as egg-binding and bone fractures.

are eating calcium-poor diets, such as only seeds, often draw calcium out of their own bones to make eggshells and to contract muscles, making their bones weak and brittle and predisposing them to bone fractures. New pelleted diets, formulated to be nutritionally balanced with not only proper amounts of vitamin D and calcium but also with other critical vitamins and minerals, are now commercially available in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors to suit the preferences of all birds. By feeding pellets as the mainstay of their pet birds’ diets, supplemented with only small amounts of other foods such as fresh produce, nuts or seed, bird owners may help prevent the development of serious conditions such as egg-binding and bone fractures, among many other illnesses. Just as proper nutrition is critical to keeping people healthy, so is it for pet birds. Nutritionally complete pelleted formulations for birds have been key in helping deter the development of what 48 • B IR D TALK • JUNE/JULY 2018

previously was a life-threatening disease in companion parrots. ATHEROSCLEROSIS Just like people as they age, parrots can develop fat (cholesterol and triglyceride) deposits, called plaques, in their arteries — a condition termed atherosclerosis — that can obstruct the flow of blood through these vessels, predisposing birds to heart attack and stroke. Also like in people, ingestion of a high-fat diet (such as all seeds and nuts) and a lack of exercise (from sitting in a cage all day) can contribute to the development of this disease. There is also likely some genetic component as well, that contributes to this disease in parrots, as it does in humans. Given the frequency with which this disease has been seen recently in both older parrots and people, a great deal of avian research has focused on this disease. This condition appears to be more common in older Amazon and

African gray parrots, cockatoos and macaws and is often not detected until birds show signs such as falling off their perches, appearing weak or dazed or having difficulty standing. These signs occur as a bird’s blood pressure goes up (e.g., when they are stressed), and blood cannot flow quickly enough to its brain, resulting in hypoxia, lightheadedness, and even fainting. Even after birds show these signs, it is often difficult to confirm that signs are due to atherosclerosis until post-mortem.


DIAGNOSING ATHEROSCLEROSIS Imaging of the chest with X-rays or a CT scan can sometimes show changes in the large blood vessels entering and exiting the heart, suggestive of atherosclerosis. Once these changes are present, they cannot be undone. Unfortunately, parrots cannot undergo the types of angioplasty procedures performed in people to stent open these large blood vessels. Parrots with suspected atherosclerosis should be encouraged to slowly increase exercise. Increasing exercise can be as simple as having the bird walk around the floor to increase its heart rate and to increase blood flow through major arteries. Birds with severe atherosclerosis and significantly narrowed blood vessels should not be pushed to over-exercise, as they may pass out and collapse. Perhaps the most important thing the owner of a bird with atherosclerosis can do to prevent progression of this disease is to transition it off high-fat foods, like seeds and nuts, and onto a low-fat, nutritionally balanced pelleted diet. Regardless of brand, the fat content of the major commercially-available brands of pelleted bird foods is all lower than that of seeds and nuts, so getting the bird onto pellets should lessen further fat deposition within blood vessels. Owners of bird species that are predisposed to atherosclerosis should work hard to get their birds to eat pellets early in life to try to deter the build-up of these plaques. Other treatments, such as increasing the bird’s consumption of omega-3 fatty acids (found in certain supplements and in walnuts and flaxseed), may lessen the build-up of fat plaques, as well.

occurs more commonly in older individuals. However, even young birds that suffer from vitamin-A deficiency can develop kidney disease that ultimately leads to failure. Vitamin A is essential to the health of birds’ kidneys. Birds produce three components in their droppings: uric acid (the chalky, white solid component that is the main end-product of digestion of protein), urine (the clear, liquid portion) and feces (the green/brown solid portion). With vitamin-A deficiency, the cells that line the inside of the kidney tubules and ureters change, so that the solid uric acid portion of the urine sludges within the kidneys and ureters, ultimately obstructing them and causing kidney failure. When uric acid builds up to high levels in the blood, it can sludge in not only the kidneys but also in other critical internal organs, as well as in joints. This condition in birds is referred to as gout, as it is in people. When uric acid deposits within the kidneys, it causes the kidneys to swell. In birds, the sciatic nerve — one on the right and the other on the left — runs through the kidneys and down their legs. Thus, when the kidneys swell, the sciatic nerve can be pinched, causing lameness, often on only one side if one kidney is more swollen than the other.

Perhaps the most important thing the owner of a bird with atherosclerosis can do to prevent progression of this disease is to transition it off high-fat foods, like seeds and nuts.

KIDNEY DISEASE As in people, in birds, kidney failure JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 49

Owners can help prevent kidney disease by ensuring that their birds have fresh water daily and that they are eating a nutritionally balanced pelleted diet supplemented with small amounts of fresh produce.

Frequently, owners see this one-sided lameness and think the bird has injured its leg. If both kidneys are affected, the bird may appear to have a shifting leg lameness, seeming uncomfortable on both legs. If uric acid deposits within the joints, especially those in the legs and feet, the bird’s joints may look swollen, and white, chalky uric acid may be visible through the skin within the joints TREATING KIDNEY DISEASE Early on in kidney disease, when uric acid levels start to rise, a veterinarian can start the bird on medications to decrease uric acid production and therefore slow the buildup of uric acid in the blood. A bird with kidney disease should also receive a vitamin A shot, and its owners

should be advised to encourage the bird to drink more fluids, either by offering it more watery fruits and vegetables or by adding a few drops of fruit juice to its drinking water. With ongoing treatment, birds diagnosed with kidney disease early in the course of the disease can live months to years, depending on how far the disease has progressed at the time of diagnosis. Owners can help prevent kidney disease by ensuring that their birds have fresh water daily and that they are eating a nutritionally-balanced pelleted diet supplemented with small amounts of fresh produce. THE IMPORTANCE OF PREVENTATIVE CARE Not all disease can be prevented; many

What makes a bird hormonal? • Feeding a bird warm, soft food. In the wild, mated birds feed each other warm food from their crops.

• Increased light exposure, making a bird believe it’s spring and it’s time to find mates and lay eggs.

• Having a potential mate in the cage with him/her. • Petting the bird’s body rather than just his/her head. • Any petting on the back, under the wings or around the cloaca area may sexually stimulate a bird.

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Getting birds out of their cages daily either to fly (in a safe, supervised space) or to walk around can help keep their hearts and bodies healthy.

illnesses develop in healthy people and animals as a result of a genetic predisposition or environmental factors. However, just as in people, the chance that birds develop illnesses often can be lessened with proper diet and exercise. Unfortunately, most pet birds get little chance to exercise; getting them out of their cages daily either to fly (in a safe, supervised space) or to walk around can help keep their hearts and bodies healthy. Proper nutrition is key, as well. Wild birds generally eat a much more balanced diet than pet birds; they consume a combination of seeds, nuts, bugs, berries, fruits and vegetables, while most pet birds still eat predominantly high-fat seeds and nuts, with very little fresh produce. New studies have shown that seedand nut-based diets lack essential vitamins, minerals, and protein and contain excess fat, all of which contribute to the development of several potentially life-threatening illnesses in pet parrots, such as egg-binding, atherosclerosis and gout. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of outdated misinformation still on the

Internet about recommended nutrition for birds. New research in avian medicine focuses on how not only to treat but also to prevent life-threatening illness in pet birds. Avian veterinarians continue to struggle, as I have since the days I first saw toucans during my internship, to keep up-to-date with critical new research findings. One finding that no avian veterinarian can afford to miss is the discovery that nutritionally-complete and balanced pelleted diets now provide the best nutrition possible to try to prevent serious illness in beloved companion parrots. • Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian Practice), owns the Veterinary Center for Birds & Exotics in Bedford Hills, N.Y. She is director of pet health and nutrition for ZuPreem exotic pet foods, author of “Unlikely Companions: The Adventures of an Exotic Animal Doctor,” and is a regular exotic pet contributor to veterinary conferences, popular pet websites and radio and television shows. Learn more at www. JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI R D TA L K • 51


Trends in Bird Feeding

How and what we feed parrots has changed several times over the years.


he title of this column is “Psittacine Cuisine.” I chose the title because I wanted to present a distinct way of preparing, cooking and presenting food to companion birds that goes beyond what most people think birds eat in households and aviaries all over the world. The word “cuisine” alludes to a style or quality of cooking. It also has to do with cooking methods and the use of regionally available products. With the drive to use more locally sourced produce, as well as the wide range of food we now have available, we are able to expand what we feed our birds, as well as ourselves. The ability to feed companion birds a healthier, more

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varied and fresher diet has expanded and become vastly easier. New food trends are a part of what is driving this ability. WHAT ARE FOOD TRENDS? Food trends are something that can and occasionally drive the consumer to change their shopping habits. Whether it’s the new restaurant you went to last week that put quinoa in the chopped salad or the first time you had Tibetan food, unique ingredients and new ways of cooking affect the way you shop. When calamari debuted in restaurants all over the United States about 30 years ago, people were eating it when the year before many didn't even know you could

eat squid. Sometimes a visit to another country is all it takes to get someone to fall in love with a dish you’ve never had before. Ramen went from brick-like packages you bought at the dollar store, to a fragrant and healthy bowl of vegetables, delicious soba noodles and a variety of fresh, exotic greens. Through the decades the world has seen food trends and fads come and go. From the ridiculous space food sticks during the space race of the early 60s to the introduction of nachos that were first prepared, and served in 1943 in Northern Mexico, food trends have shaped the way people eat. The custom of serving nachos as an appetizer didn’t go mainstream in the U.S. until the mid-70s. But when they hit, they hit big. And now you can purchase all of the ingredients you need to make them at any grocery store. The 80s sparked its own set of food fads including quiche, ranch dressing (now a salad dressing standard), bran muffins, potato skins and frozen yogurt. You can currently see every single one of these items in the aisles and freezer section at the supermarket. Food fads also affect the way we shop for our home kitchens. Many produce items that people now buy and consume regularly were not available to the general public 10 years ago. You couldn’t find arugula, dandelion greens, watercress, kale, jicama and bags of baby greens in local supermarkets. Bell peppers were just about the only pepper commonly found, and they came in three colors if you were lucky. Now you can locate serrano, poblano, Anaheim,


By Patricia Sund

banana, jalapeño, and habanero peppers all in the same produce section, giving the consumer more choices in heat as well as flavor. Does this affect the way we feed our birds? It certainly does. We now have a broader variety of nutritious foods to choose from when buying and preparing food for our flocks. People know that leafy green vegetables are an excellent choice to feed their birds. But now they have many more options to choose from. Kale, arugula, Swiss chard, dandelion leaves, watercress and collards are now commonly seen in stores and markets. These choices are superb additions to a companion bird’s diet.


WHAT ABOUT WILD DIETS? It just isn’t possible to completely replicate a wild diet. The challenge of mimicking a bird’s food choices in the wild has been an issue for years for both breeders and companion bird families, as well as zoos and educational facilities. To feed what captive birds need, aviculturists must mimic the birds’ biological needs with food available to them, either by growing it themselves or purchasing it. This became an issue during the 80s in the United States when aviculture became very popular, and companion birds were in high demand. I asked Rick Jordan, a member of American Federation Aviculture (AFA), author and aviculturist, about the challenges of replacing a bird’s natural diet in the wild with a healthy and well-balanced diet from commercial sources.

“In the 1980s, veterinarians became interested in avian medicine as the parrot boom hit the U.S. and parrots became commonly kept companion animals,” Jordan said. “In an attempt to provide good healthcare, vets noticed a lot of the health issues were nutrition related. Vitamin-A deficiencies and calcium deficiencies topped the list.” That’s when people began looking for foods that were readily available and would provide a higher vitamin A and/or calcium source for caged birds, Jordan explained. “Thus carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, spinach and other commonly available human foods were added to the all-seed diets. Slowly the interest in nutrition grew, and pelleted diets evolved in basically the same way.” Jordan also discussed replacing nutritional supplements with a healthier diet. “The things I remember folks ‘speculating’ about were lysine, proteins, and the occasional D3 conversion,” he said. “Folks tried to find foods high in nutrients so they did not have to supplement with powders and vitamins, but there was a lot of [supplement use] going on too.” One example Jordan pointed out? People supplemented for vitamin D3 with powders but accidentally overdid it. They ended up accidentally poisoning birds with it. Thus the era of caution about vitamins began because folks over supplemented everything, Jordan said. MORE OPTIONS, MORE CHOICE Buyers and marketing experts are beginning to realize that people are far more

aware that their food selections affect not only their general health but how they feel on a day-to-day basis. We have become more mindful of the benefits of eating healthy, and it is reflected by the contents of our shopping carts. And due to this, birds are benefiting from those better choices we are making at the store. As the public becomes more educated about better food choices, we are applying that knowledge to how we feed our flocks. I asked biology educator and “The Science of Nutrition” columnist (Page 54), Dr. Jason Crean, what he thought about the effect of a wider variety of available foods when deciding what to feed companion birds. “I think it’s twofold,” he said. “I’ve seen it as a combination of what some see as biologically appropriate foods when attempting to mimic the ancestral diet and the extrapolation of health benefits we see as a result of human consumption. And both are valid.” As more produce options spring up, trends change. Step aside, kale, the next big thing of 2018 is dried watermelon seeds and nut oils. People are also becoming more aware that plantbased diets are a healthier choice for them. And because of this, watching for new selections, doing the research and adapting new foods to your flock’s diet will only add more taste to their food bowls, improve their health and enhance their lives. • Patricia Sund is the creative director of Bird Talk Magazine.

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Avian Nutrition: Then and Now

How we’ve fed parrots has evolved over the years. By Jason J. Crean, MS Bio, EdD


s a consultant, I get the opportunity to meet and talk with a great diversity of people who manage birds: Zoo personnel, pet owners, breeders and conservationists. Many want a simple answer when it comes to the feeding of their flocks; unfortunately, there isn’t one. Feeding birds of any species — each with nutrient requirements that may vary from day to day, week to week, season to season — will always be a quandary. We cannot replicate wild diets to which our species have adapted and, even in the wild, many of these food items are declining due to habitat loss. My philosophy is quite simple: as bird owners, we must provide as much diversity in the diet as possible in an effort to satisfy the individual needs of each bird. I always recommend food items in their raw, whole, unadulterated form as the most efficient way to cover the nutritional bases. In both my own animal husbandry and the recommendations I give the zoos for which I consult, I make every effort to make available whole food diets to all of the animals we keep. It is my hope that, through this column, we can take on those myths and use common sense approaches to ensuring our birds are getting the very best nutrition we can offer. Science has always found raw food diets to be superior to highly processed foods. For example, you don’t have to look far into the research to see what 54 • B IR D TALK • JUNE/JULY 2018

harmful carcinogens form in our foods when just heated. It’s simply common knowledge; I can remember my own grandmother telling other family members not to cook out the nutrients in the food at holiday dinners. When it comes to avian-specific nutrition research, there remains a void. Many of the true studies are sparse and, in my opinion, highly focused, with small sample sizes and, at times, questionable methods. Other studies can be biased, with their primary effort to justify the use of a product for sale. This lack of research is why myths continue to be perpetuated on the internet and in social media as it is difficult to determine what sources one can actually trust. WHERE WE HAVE BEEN If you have ever heard one of my lectures, you have heard me claim that there is no “complete” diet for birds. What do I mean by this? In the most basic terms, there is no one food that will satisfy all of the nutrient requirements birds need. Most are familiar with the prevalence of mostly seed diets in aviculture’s past. As little was known about what birds truly needed, seed was viewed as a fair alternative to wild diets as it was the most biologically appropriate food available. Finches and canaries had beaks adapted specifically for the consumption of small seeds and parrots had larger beaks for cracking seeds and

nuts. Seed was fairly inexpensive, easy to obtain and store, and enabled birds to breed and raise chicks. However, viewing the long-term effects of nutrition was difficult. Are seeds bad? Of course not. But that hasn’t stopped many to go to the other extreme, demonizing seed as if it is harmful to a bird’s health. WHERE WE ARE NOW These extreme viewpoints have driven people to eliminate potentially beneficial foods entirely from the diet. Seeds inherently provide a variety of necessary fats to the diet, some fats which completely denature when processed in any way. However, if seeds are the only item offered, the diet is lacking in other important nutrients. I have seen alarming discussions on the elimination of fruits because they contain “sugars.” Same premise as seed: Just as not all fats are created equal, sugars aren’t either. Some carbohydrates can be an important energy source as well as a source of fiber that not only feeds the bird, but also the gut microbes that support the overall health of the bird as well. All of these issues ultimately lead to the same common sense conclusion, and the basis for my own philosophy of feeding: Providing a highly diverse diet of foods in their whole form is the very best way to give our birds what they need to have a healthy existence.


WHERE WE CAN GO TOGETHER Birds have requirements that include carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Some species and even some individual birds have more substantial requirements than others when it comes to obtaining certain nutrients. However, bird owners can be confident that diverse raw, whole food diets will provide the nutrients that will nourish each cell that composes their bodies. Seeds, tree nuts, and the oils derived from these foodstuffs fill the vital need birds have for healthy fats. Carbohydrates,

including sugars and fiber, found in plant matter are critical for energy expenditure and the health of their intestinal microbiome. Proteins from legumes and insects like mealworms can be a welcome addition to any bird diet so that birds can obtain the accessible protein they require. Regardless of the food offered, one must question whether the nutrients are truly accessible to the body. Bioavailability involves the nutrient being in a form that the body can readily absorb and use. Many food items in their whole form not only contain

vital nutrients, but also the organic compounds that enable their absorption and assimilation. We have a great deal to discuss and I hope you will join me in taking on some of these nutrition topics. • Jason J. Crean, MS Bio, EdD, is a biology instructor, aviculturist and zoo consultant. Learn more at

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Clear the Air

Clean air is crucial for birds everywhere. By Susan Chamberlain


haring your home with a pet bird changes everything! Birds aren’t difficult to care for, but you will undoubtedly need to make some household modifications for their health and safety. Birds have complex and sensitive respiratory systems, so indoor air quality is of paramount importance. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Indoor air pollution is among the top five environmental health risks.” Bye, bye scented candles! So long, plug-in air fresheners! Au revoir to many household contaminants! FRESH AIR IS THE BEST AIR CLEANER Open a window at least once a day, year-round, even if just for a few minutes. When weather permits, install a window fan blowing out to reduce dust and dander inside. The evidence will quickly become apparent on your window screen. When windows can’t be opened for a substantial amount of time, the use of an electronic air filtering device may be warranted. Choose a high-efficiency particulate air or HEPA model to remove dust, pollen, dander, dust mites, smoke, mold and bacteria from the air. Some air cleaners also use interior ultraviolet light to help destroy pollutants. Others feature ozone generators which produce ozone gas to destroy pollutants. Ozone is a lung irritant, and according to the EPA, “is not always safe and effective in controlling indoor air pollutants.” Do not rely on an air filter to remove toxins 56 • B IR D TA LK • JUNE/JULY 2018

from the indoor atmosphere. CONTROL DANDER NATURALLY Does it look like a snowstorm whenever your bird flaps her wings? Is there a lot of ‘fallout’ when you remove tray paper from your bird’s cage each day? Dust and dander management is an ongoing project for bird owners, particularly those who live with African grey parrots, cockatoos and cockatiels. I keep a water-filled spray bottle handy and mist both birds and the bottom paper to keep the dust down before I remove it from the tray. I roll the paper up like a candy wrapper to further enclose the dust and debris. Because birds tend to preen in the evening, I like to change the paper the first thing in the morning to contain the dander, and again just before bedtime to remove discarded food and droppings. IS THERE A KILLER IN YOUR KITCHEN? It may be old news to some of us, but birds are still dying from fumes emitted from overheated, non-stick cookware and appliances, including ovens with a self-cleaning feature. The fumes are odorless and colorless. The culprit is polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a polymer in many non-stick surfaces. Teflon, Calphalon, Analon and Silverstone are some of the brand names. In 1982, The American Journal of Veterinary Research published a report describing a controlled study in which budgies died from

such exposure. “PTFE pyrolysis product inhalation produces a syndrome indicative of irritant inhalation toxicosis, with a resulting severe necrotizing and hemorrhagic pneumonitis.” There are ‘green’ pans on the market that feature ceramic, non-stick coatings. Look for ‘PTFE and PFOA Free’ labels on any non-stick products you are considering for use in your home. Read manufacturers’ instructions and cautions carefully, and if necessary, call them with your questions and concerns. Because any smoke can be harmful, do not house your bird in the kitchen. “NATURAL” DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN “SAFE” The Food and Drug Administration does not have a formal definition for the term “natural,” but considers it to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic has been added to a product. “Non-toxic” means that a product is not poisonous to humans. Because such products are not routinely tested on animals, their safety in proximity to our pets cannot be guaranteed. Birds may be sensitive to “natural” products as well as to mainstream chemical cleaners. Many bird owners use white vinegar mixed with water to clean floors and hard surfaces. Read product labels and choose the least toxic formulas available. There are cleaning products on the market specifically intended for use around birds. Check your local bird store and online sources, and ask your avian veterinarian for suggestions.

Use products in their liquid form instead of spraying them into the air. Tiny, aerosolized droplets can be inhaled by your birds and cause respiratory distress and even death. Do not spray any cleaning products, cosmetics (deodorant, perfume, hairspray), paint, room deodorizers, pesticides, rug “fresheners,” waterproofing compounds or other chemicals anywhere near your birds. Use such products only in well-ventilated areas away from your feathered friends. Read product labels carefully and heed caution statements. Chlorine (commonly found in bleach) and other chemicals emit fumes that may be harmful to your pets. Some birds seem to be especially sensitive to furniture polish. Be very careful when using essential oils, aromatherapy and diffusers around birds and other pets, as some can cause adverse effects. Ask your avian veterinarian for specific advice.


CIGARETTES, VAPING AND MARIJUANA AREN’T BIRD FRIENDLY Don’t expose your bird to secondhand smoke! Cigarette smoke contains 250 harmful chemicals, and 69 of those are known to cause cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Surgeon General have classified secondhand smoke as a known human carcinogen. Exposure to secondhand smoke irritates the airways and has immediate harmful effects on a person’s heart and blood vessels. Aside from respiratory issues, there

Clean Air Check-Up •

Keep bird cages clean! Dust from dried droppings can compromise indoor air quality and spread disease.

Use unscented detergent and forgo the use of fabric softener sheets when laundering cage covers, as your bird may be sensitive to scents and chemicals. Check and change filters on heating and air conditioning units frequently.

are anecdotal reports of cigarette smoke contributing to feather plucking. Marijuana smoke also contains numerous chemicals and is irritating to human lungs, so common sense would assume that it would also affect the avian respiratory system. If you live in a state where pot is legal, please indulge well away from pet birds. Vaping has become increasingly popular but is also best experienced away from your bird. According to a research at the Harvard School of Public Health, diacetyl, a flavoring chemical linked to cases of severe respiratory disease, was found in more than 75 percent

Have air ducts inspected for mold and cleaned when necessary.

Scented candles may have adverse effects on birds. Use pure beeswax candles instead.

Never mix cleaning products together (e.g., chlorine bleach and ammonia), as lethal fumes may result.

of flavored electronic cigarettes and refill liquids tested. Two other potentially harmful related compounds were found in many of the tested samples. Living with pet birds is more than a hobby. It’s truly a lifestyle, and a great deal of that lifestyle involves cleaning up the indoor environment. Not only will your bird benefit — you will too! • Susan Chamberlain shares her home with eight pet birds and has written articles about all aspects of parrot parenthood since 1984. She is the past president of the Long Island Parrot Society.

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How Crowdfunding Can Help Birds in an Emergency

During times of crisis, turn to your friends, family and social media through online crowdfunding. By Amanda Lafond


ur birds rely on us for so much. Everything from food, to entertainment, to living spaces are dependent on what we provide. Vet care, especially emergency vet care, is an often overlooked, but critical necessity in bird ownership. In the best case scenarios, having money set aside specifically for the unexpected or even pet insurance is ideal, but sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control. Say some other emergency came up that depleted your vet fund and you’re left unprepared in the wake of a new emergency. What are your options then? TRY ONLINE FUNDRAISING In this situation, many have turned to online fundraising to get together the money needed to help their beloved birds. There are many options available, but two of the most used ones are: GoFundMe: This is, by far, the most well known of the fundraising sites I recommend. It even has an Animals and Pets specific category that may help get some attention on your campaign. GoFundMe has been around since 2010

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and is a trusted site within many bird communities. However, there are some that would rather not donate to campaigns on GoFundMe due to past controversies over which campaigns the site has taken down and which ones have been allowed to remain up. Setting up a personal campaign is free and relatively easy. The process is straightforward, and the site provides many tips. You can even edit your campaign URL to make sharing it easier. I recommend a short, memorable URL that is descriptive of your campaign. While personal campaigns may be free to set up, WePay, the payment processing service site that GoFundMe works with, does take a 2.9 percent payment processing fee as well as 30 cents from each donation. GoFundMe itself has recently dropped it’s 5 percent charge for personal campaigns in the US, Canada, and the U.K., though donors have the option of leaving a tip for the site. Be sure to factor this into your campaign planning when deciding on a goal or you may find yourself coming up short. Overall, GoFundMe is a solid and popular choice, with second place

going to YouCaring. While YouCaring may not be quite as ubiquitous as GoFundMe, the site has always been a platform for free fundraising using a model that GoFundMe only adopted in November 2017. There is no charge to set up a campaign, but once again, it is important to remember that 2.9-percent processing fee and 30 cents taken from every donation — unavoidable charges for every fundraising site, as they are required for safe credit card payments through third-party partners like PayPal. To keep the site running, YouCaring also relies on optional tips from donors. YouCaring is also fairly easy to navigate, providing templates and examples for someone setting up a campaign for the first time. It has its own category for Pets and Animals so that donors browsing the site may find you more easily. With YouCaring, donors may donate using PayPal, and you can also choose to use the site as your payment processor to receive your donations after your campaign is complete. Due to the familiarity and ease of use of PayPal, this may encourage more donors. Especially since GoFundMe dropped

its 5-percent fee, the two sites are very comparable. Either would make a good choice for your campaign, but it would be worth it to look into reviews of each, as well as check out some successful campaigns to see what others have done. There’s also a few other well-known sites like Fundly and Fund Razer, but they may take another percentage from each of your donations. Whichever site you choose, do your research!


HOW TO SET UP AN ONLINE CAMPAIGN The way you set up your campaign can be just as important as the platform you decide to use. After setting up my own campaign in the past, and seeing many others passed around on social media, here are some of my best tips to help make your fundraiser successful. Be clear and concise in the description of your campaign. This way readers can get the who, what, where and why of what’s happening with you and your bird as soon as possible. Tell readers your bird’s story. Describe them, their personality, and what they mean to you. Establishing this kind of emotional

connection helps those who might donate feel like their money is going to a worthy cause. Donors will also want to know what their money is being used for. Describe the problem or emergency in simple and honest terms. Include all information that you can, such as what the vet has said about the situation, and even a vet bill if you can. It may sound a little callous, but some donors may want to see this kind of proof when donating to individuals. Be sure to talk about where exactly the money will go. If there is the potential for money that goes over the goal of your campaign, consider what you will do with it. One of your best options might be to start a vet fund with the extra money so that you are prepared in the case of another emergency. Use pictures too! If your bird is sick or injured, it can be helpful to include pictures, but it might be best to place them later in the campaign and have them accompanied with a warning for more sensitive readers. In most cases, the picture that is the “face” of your campaign may be better off being one where your bird is happy and healthy. Gruesome pictures right off the bat may

not encourage potential donors to click or read through your campaign. Of course, your gratitude should also be included. Without your donors, your fundraising goals will not be achieved. Be sure to let them know what their help means to you. Lastly, share, share, share! Share your campaign wherever you can! Post links to your campaign on any social media you have. If you are part of any bird-centric online communities, sharing there can be useful as well, as long as doing so falls within the community guidelines. No one wants to find themselves in a situation where they must rely on the kindness of strangers to save their bird’s life. Preplanning for such an emergency will always be preferable to the panic that accompanies trying to scrape together the means to pay an unexpected vet bill. Here’s to quick recoveries, compassion and successful campaigns for you and your birds. • Amanda Lafond was raised by a cockatiel and lives in upstate New York. She spends much of her time sharing pictures of her birds with the internet under Pepper and Pals.

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Reasons We Love Green-Cheeked Conures These little birds might be the perfect pet. By Jessica Pineda

Full disclosure: I love green-cheeked conures (Pyrrhura mollinae) and I have one myself: a turquoise green-cheeked conure named Blue. I know I’m not the only who loves this species, though. Green-cheeked conures are one of the most popular conures, second only to sun conures. Why are they so popular? Here are 8 reasons why we love them.


THEY HAVE AMAZING PERSONALITIES Ask any green-cheeked conure parent and they’ll tell you: These little birds are filled with personality and they aren’t afraid to show it. Melinda Maeve Stimpson of Ohio called them “Ferrets trapped in a bird’s body,” and I couldn’t agree more. There is so much to love about these birds. Packed in cockatiel-sized bodies, green cheeks have all the rambunctiousness of the little parrots like lovebirds and budgies, packed with all the affection of the big birds. They love to get into everything and go off exploring just as much as they love to snuggle against your cheek, mumbling sweetly into your ear. Other bird owners agreed. “Green cheeks have their own sort of ‘Napoleon complex,’ said Thryn Hare, a green-cheeked conure owner in Minnesota. “They stand up to others with a ferocity that suggests they think they’re much bigger than they are. They are so small but passionate and opinionated; their personality is so much bigger than their physical size. I love their low grumbling chatter and how they’re always going to tell you what they think.” Jamie Kay, a green-cheeked conure owner in Colorado described them as large-parrot personalities in a small-parrot body. “Mine is smart and sassy and definitely makes his wants known,” she said. “He’s also a very affectionate, snuggly boy when he wants to be, as you can see. Definitely a flying toddler!”

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THEY ARE ON THE QUIETER SIDE Parrots are loud, but some are louder than others. Green cheeks tend to be on the quieter side, though they can deal out ear-piercing screams now and then. Compared to sun conures or other birds like macaws, however, their sound levels are much more manageable. That means green-cheeked conures are great for people who live in townhouses or apartments, and who don’t want to bother their neighbors with excessive noise. The sounds they do make are adorable too: They have a series of squeaks and other “beep” sounds they make when they’re curious or want to come spend time with you. Their contact calls (a sound that parrots make to check in the flock) are often a two-toned set of chirps. They can also learn to mimic household sounds, like microwave beeps.



While the African greys, budgies and conures have them beat in the talking department, green-cheeked conures can hold their own. “My Crystal [has] a huge vocabulary,” said Julie Bunting Mitchell of Virginia. “[She knows how to say] Hi, what, huh, are you being a good girl, hi monkey, I love you, I’m a pretty baby girl, Daddy, Momma, she kisses and says quite a few more things that I haven’t figured out what she’s saying yet.” Each green cheek is different, and some may never talk at all. Talking to your bird increases your chances he’ll talk, so chatter often to your green cheek. They won’t mind at all!

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THEY ARE EASY TO CARE FOR Green-cheeked conures don’t need much. Housing-wise, they don’t need a tall cage to accommodate a long tail like some of the ring-necked parakeets; they don’t need a cage that is indestructible like the cockatoos must have. Green-cheeked conures don’t need a lot of space relative to other birds either, which is good if you live in an apartment or townhouse. A cockatiel-sized cage, or a cage that is at least 24-inches wide, 24-inches deep and 24-inches tall, is perfect for them. They’ll use every bit of space in it, so feel free to go for a larger cage, as long as the bar spacing is 5/8 inches to 3/4 inches wide. Throw in some small- to medium-sized bird toys, a hut, a variety of perches (a boing is a must — they love to bounce on them), and your conure is set. Outside the cage, however, is where you might run into some problems. A cockatiel-sized playpen is recommended, though good luck keeping them on it. Green cheeks love to explore their surroundings, so don’t be surprised if you put your bird down, look away and then find him in a completely different spot. Diet-wise, a high-quality pelleted diet supplemented with some vegetables and fruits is all they need. Switching green cheeks over from a seedonly diet to pellets can take some work but keep at it. They might take it to faster than other birds; I’ve found green cheeks are more willing to try new foods, especially if you’re eating them too. My green cheek Blue has tried everything I’ve put in front of him, from pellets, strawberries, cucumbers, wheatgrass, kale and carrot.


The “Nippy” Phase Young green-cheeked conures are a lot like puppies, in that they go through a phase where they want to test their little beaks on every surface. They don’t know their own strength, however, and end up “nipping” their owners without meaning to. Some people might think their bird is biting them, but that isn’t the case — young green cheeks just don’t know better yet and need to be taught that fingers/ears/skin aren’t to be chewed on. Thankfully, green cheeks grow out of this phase, much like puppies do. You just have to get through it, without accidentally teaching your bird that nipping you is rewarding. (Learn more about that in the column “Understand Behavior” on page 96.) Read about how to handle nipping/ biting birds and talk to people who have green cheeks for tips on how to get through this phase.

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THEY’RE RELATIVELY INEXPENSIVE Compared to other parrots and pets such as dogs and cats, normal colored green-cheeked conures are usually around $300. Since these birds don’t need a large, expensive cage to go with them, it means green-cheeked conures are relatively affordable for those with small budgets. The various color mutations of green-cheeked conures are usually more expensive, however, depending on how rare the colors are. Overall, for a family or a single person wanting to bring home a new pet though without paying thousands of dollars upfront, green-cheeked conures are a great choice.

Yellow-sided green-cheeked conures Cinnamon green-cheeked conures


Pineapple green-cheeked conures

Turquoise green-cheeked conures Green-cheeked conures are beautiful birds, but some of their color mutations make them gorAmerican dilute green-cheeked conures geous. There are mutations, like the yellow-sided Mint green-cheeked conures `green-cheeked conures, that add a burst on yellow on, (you guessed it) their sides. Another Sun cheek green-cheeked conures mutation trades in the normal green cheek’s green and maroon tail for blue feathers on its Moon cheek green-cheeked conures body and a gray tail. That’s the turquoise greencheeked conure. There are several green-cheeked conure mutations. Each of these conure mutations has variations too, such as a cinnamon yellow-sided green cheeked conure. This bird has the bright yellows of the yellow-sided mutation, mixed with the light fawn-colored head found in the cinnamon mutation. Out of all the mutations, the turquoise green-cheeked conure appears to be the most popular.

Green-Cheeked Conures Quick Facts Species name: Pyrrhura mollinae Lifespan: Up to 30 years

Recommended diet: A base diet of pellets, supplemented with vegetables, fruits and some seed.

Size: Around 10 inches long

Color: The normal (or nominal) colored greencheeked conure is mostly green, with blue on their wing tips, maroon-red on their tails and gray feathers on their chest and around their heads.

Recommended cage size: 24 inches wide, 24 inches deep and 24 inches tall; bar size 5/8 inches to 3/4 inches wide.

Often confused with the maroon-bellied conure (Pyrrhura frontalis) and crimson-bellied conure (Pyrrhura perlata)

Native Habitat: South America

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THEY ARE GREAT FOR NEW(ISH) AND EXPERIENCED BIRD OWNERS Whether you’ve had little to no experience with birds, or have had them for years and years, green-cheeked conures make great pets. They’re especially great for bird owners who want a “parrot,” but aren’t ready to handle the larger birds such as macaws and cockatoos. There are some caveats, though; you need to know what you’re getting into. “Green-cheeked conures are wonderful, playful and smart birds, but [they’re] not a beginner’s bird,” Mitchell said. “They are so smart that they need experienced bird owners ... in order to stay ahead of their antics.” Paula Sloniegora in Quebec, Canada, who runs a rescue, agreed. “I have placed them in homes, where the owner has had a parakeet or even no previous bird experience. We have had many visits, and a lot of work with handling and basic training from me before the bird has gone home with the new owner.” Before you bring home a green-cheeked conure, do plenty of research. Read books about them, watch videos about their behavior and talk to other green-cheeked conure owners to know what you’re in for. When it’s time to bring your green cheek home, look for reputable bird breeders, bird stores or adoption organizations that socialize their birds and is willing to work with you on behavior and training.



THEY MIGHT BE THE BEST PET BIRD Take all the best qualities of parrots and put them together, and you have the green cheeks. When it comes down to it, these little parrots might be the best pet birds out there, if not the best pets period. With how easy they are to care for, their decent talking ability, and with just how much personality is tucked into their tiny bodies, you can’t find a pet like them anywhere else. Those who have them can’t stop gushing about them either, like Heather McFarlane of Minnesota, who said, “They’re sweet and affectionate until things aren’t going their way. They think they’re the royalty of the house. They’re incredibly intelligent and observational and not afraid to give their opinions.” Kimberlily Evan of Pennsylvania called her green cheek Petra the ‘baby of the flock,’ and added, “They’re not as boisterous as the macaw or as headstrong as the Pionus, but they’re a lovely mix of snuggly and feisty!” Even those who don’t have green-cheeked conures themselves agree they’re great birds. “Having had several green-cheeked conures come, and then be adopted from my rescue, I can say they are a mixture of friendly, cuddly, feisty, funny and smart birds,” Sloniegora said. “As talkers, they can be great. They are playful, curious and sociable little birds, and love to be with you as much as they can.” So why do you love green-cheeked conures? •

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How to Build an Amazing Bird Room Create a special space for your bird with these ideas. By Jessica Pineda

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while back, there was this hilarious meme being shared around social media. It was an outline of a home, with only two rooms inside. The largest room was simply labeled “bird room.” For everyone who saw it there was only one reaction: That’s my house. And no doubt many of us let our birds hang out in every room of house since they love spending time with us. However, have you considered taking one room in your house and making it an official bird room? It’s easier than you think, and it also offers your bird a safe place to hang out and play. If you do decide to build your bird the room of his dreams, here are several ideas to consider.

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According to the Cleveland, Ohiobased company Audimite, which sells soundproofing blankets, “First, place your cage in a corner, preferably by a window; in fact, it’s highly recommended. Put one sound absorption sheet on each of the two walls in the corner. These will prevent the walls from reflecting or transmitting sound; basically, it will prevent your corner from acting like a sound amplifier. Fasten one sound absorption sheet to the back and the sides of your cage. This absorbs any sound emanating from the covered sides and leaves the top and front sides of your bird cages exposed.” If you have the budget, consider soundproofing your walls, floors and windows. Placing soundproof material in your walls and under floorboards can help absorb noise. Soundproofing windows help keep noise from transferring outside and disturbing the neighbors.

Add Storage Space


Use airtight bins to store food, which keeps bugs out of it and also prevents it from getting wet and moldy. Don’t forget a trash can, too. Use one that has a touch lid so it keeps your bird from accidentally getting inside. Avoid trash bags too, as a bird could easily suffocate if they accidentally get inside the trash.

SOUNDPROOF YOUR BIRD ROOM We all know how loud parrots are. Even the smallest parrot, the parrotlet, has a high-pitched chirp that can echo around the house. There’s no real way to stop a parrot from vocalizing since that’s part of his nature. That doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to dampen the noise, however. Luckily there are plenty of ways to soundproof a room. One of the easiest ways is to buy curtains for your windows. Now, not any curtains will do; according to, “A truly effective soundproof curtain will be heavy, tightly woven, and will go from ceiling to floor and several inches past each side of the window. The key here is that it covers as much area around the window as possible so that the folds in the curtains can create as much of a seal 68 • B IR D TALK • JUNE/JULY 2018

around the sides as possible.” The website also recommends soundproofing your doorway, as many are hollow and easily carry sounds. One way to soundproof it is by placing a door sweep in the crack between the door and floor. A soundproofing blanket is also a good way to go around bird cages, too.

With such sensitive lungs, keeping your bird’s air clean is crucial. Dust, dander, mold, bacteria and other particles linger in the air and can be kicked up every time your bird flaps his wings. When designing your bird room, install a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter; it’ll help keep the air clean so you and your bird aren’t breathing in all those bad particles. For more ideas on how to keep your bird’s air clean, see “Natural Bird” on page 56. THINK ABOUT HUMIDITY Humidity is another factor to consider in your bird room. Many parrot species come from tropical climates and need moisture in the air to keep them healthy. Unfortunately, our homes have a tendency to suck out moisture, thanks to air conditioners

With such sensitive lungs, keeping your bird’s air clean is crucial. Dust, dander, mold, bacteria and other particles linger in the air and can be kicked up every time your bird flaps his wings.


With birds, comes the need for extra storage space. You need a place to store bird food, extra bowls, towels to mop up messes or secure birds, and space for extra toys and treats. By installing some counters with cabinets, you’ll have plenty of space on hand.


and heaters. Without proper humidity levels, a bird’s sinuses can become dry, especially during winter, and he can develop respiratory issues. Designing your bird room with humidity in mind helps address that issue. One of the easiest ways to do that is to give your bird regular baths or mistings. According to the article, “Why Humidity is Important for Your Bird” over at, “Letting your bird run through the stream [from a sink], spraying them gently with water or letting them roll around in a water dish ... are great methods to let [him] have fun and stay hydrated. Another tip is to give [your bird] moisture-rich and water-logged foods such as pieces of Swiss chard or lettuce to keep them hydrated from the inside out.” All that water is bound to be thrown around though; consider placing plastic behind your bird’s cage so it doesn’t affect your walls. Another way to protect your walls is to use paints that are designed to keep your walls water-free. (See the “Paint the Room Bright Colors” section for more details.) Another way to raise the humidity in your bird’s room? Incorporate plants into a room, as the regular misting and watering helps to raise humidity levels. Another option is to use a vaporizer or humidifier, though you need to regularly clean those, as mold and bacteria can grow inside them and affect your bird. However you decide to raise the humidity in your bird’s room, keep levels above 55 percent. Monitor the humidity levels in the room by installing a thermometer with a built-in humidity reader.

Use the ceiling to hang toys, perches like boings or those large bird rope climbing nets. You can also hang vertical gyms, or build a gym of your own out of PVC pipe that traverses the length of your ceiling. MAKE USE OF NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL LIGHTING Much like fresh air, exposure to natural or full-spectrum lighting is critical to a bird’s health. To properly absorb calcium in their diets, birds need vitamin D, which is created naturally in the body when skin is exposed to the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays in sunlight or full-spectrum

lighting. Unfortunately, glass filters out the beneficial UVB rays we all need. When designing your bird room, keep that in mind. That might mean positioning cages near open windows (with screens), so sunlight comes in naturally without being filtered out by the glass. Install full-spectrum lights, an artificial but great source of UVB rays, near the bird’s cage or in the ceiling lights.

Bird-Safe Plants • African Daisy

• Mulberry tree

• Jade plants

• Large Lady Palm

• Umbrella plant

• Aloe Vera

• Roses

• Pearl plant

• Bamboo

• Moss fern

• Spider plants

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Install a Sink/Shower in Your Bird Room With the amount of time spent washing bird bowls or trying to clean cages, wouldn’t it be easier if you could do that in the bird room too? Of course it would, which is why you should consider installing a sink or shower in your bird room. It’s an ambitious project, but experts say it’s easier than it sounds. A small closet, minimum 3 by 6 feet, can easily be converted into a small washroom. Not only would you have a place to wash dishes in the sink, but you can use the shower to bath your birds and wash out cages. Instead of having to carry bird food and water dishes to the sink and back, or lug cages outside to clean, you can do it all in one go! The convenience alone is worth it.

PROVIDE LOTS OF PLANTS As mentioned above, plants are a great addition to a bird room simply for the humidity levels. They also are great for clearing the air too along with air filters, and just add a tropical feel to your bird room. They can also provide natural Use ecofriendly paints for your bird room.

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perches, and the foliage acts as a refuge for a bird who needs some time alone. Best of all, plants can help with soundproofing your room. The only issue with plants is the soil they are planted in. You want to avoid letting your bird root around in the dirt, as mold can grow on the soil and affect him. Keep your bird out of the soil by placing large pieces of gravel or rocks that he can’t ingest over the dirt. Regularly clean plants too, especially if your bird poops on them. That helps reduce the risk of mold and bacteria growing on them. You’ll also want to provide bird-safe plants, of which there are many to

choose from. See the sidebar for some plants to consider. Want more plant ideas? For a complete list, visit PAINT THE ROOM BRIGHT COLORS Parrots are bright and your walls should match them! If you decide to paint your rooms with bright colors, use eco-friendly paints. Most paints aren’t labeled as ‘pet-safe,’ so instead look for non-toxic, odor-free and zero volatile organic compounds (VOCs) paints. These paints shouldn’t contain formaldehyde, toluene and polyurethane. Avoid acrylic and latex paints, too. Consider milk paints as well. These paints are as natural as natural gets, made only with milk protein, casein, lime and pigments. They’re water-based too, so you don’t have to worry about any nasty fumes that come with other types of paints. They come in a variety of colors too, so go bold with your walls. You can also use paints to help keep your walls clean, especially with how much birds love to toss sticky food and fruits around. Look for paints that make walls easy to clean, such as those with “eggshell” or “satin” finish. They’re make it so all you have to do is wipe your walls down with water (assuming the food isn’t stuck on). With milk paints, you’ll need to add a


If you’re feeling ambitious, consider building an aviary in your bird room. The easiest way to do that is to build a window aviary, which is exactly as it’s described: An aviary attached to your window. That allows your bird to go outside safely and get those rays he needs and can be easily closed off when it’s time to go to bed.

Many parrot species come from tropical climates, and need moisture in the air to keep them healthy. Unfortunately, our homes have a tendency to suck out moisture, thanks to air conditioners and heaters. waterproof layer using an oil and wax finish to protect your walls so they are easy to clean. ADD A TV AND MUSIC Birds love noise, both in making it and hearing it. When it’s too quiet,

that can make a bird nervous; in the wild, when the forest goes quiet, that means a predator is near. Combat that by having a TV in the room or speakers playing music. Just hide the cords from your birds, either using a pet-proof protector around them or, with speakers, going completely wireless.

What About The Floors?


When it comes to the bird room floors, avoid rugs and carpet. Those naturally hold onto dust and mold and can be difficult to clean. Laminates and wood flooring are also not great choices: While easy to clean, they aren’t waterproof — a problem when you have to keep humidity levels high and regularly bathe your bird. (Not to mention your bird will throw water around if they decide to take a bath in the water bowl.) For those reasons, install tiled floors. While not the cheapest option when it comes to flooring, the fact that it’s easy to clean and waterproof goes a long way.

The best flooring surfaces are easy to clean and waterproof

USE ALL YOUR SPACE Go all out in your bird room by making use of all the space, both vertical and horizontal. Use the ceiling to hang toys, perches like boings or those large bird rope climbing nets. You can also hang vertical gyms, or build a gym of your own out of PVC pipe that traverses the length of your ceiling. Don’t forget about the windows! You can make a window bird aviary, as mentioned in the “Make Use of Natural and Artificial Lighting” section. Or you can use a window perch, which are perches that have suction cups that easily stick to windows. There are also window seats such as the Wingdow, which comes with areas to hang toys and treats next to the perch. And don’t forget the floor. Some parrots, like cockatiels and cockatoos, love hanging out on the ground. You’ll want to give them something to do however, so they don’t try to chew on the floor board bases. Consider building them a foraging box on the floor using a DIY garden box. Hide dry foods or toys under a layer of beads, stones and eco-friendly shredded paper to create a fun foraging experience. Clean it regularly though, as your bird will poop in it. ADD ROOM FOR YOURSELF With all this talk about a bird room, what about you? Don’t forget to carve out a small space for yourself. With a comfortable chair and some storage space for your favorite magazines (like this one?), you can relax and hang out with your birds in a room designed to keep him happy and healthy. • JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI R D TA L K • 71

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The State of Parrot Conservation

A look at how far conservation efforts for these amazing birds has come. By James Gilardi, executive director for the World Parrot Trust Photography courtesy of World Parrot Trust


umanity’s love for parrots goes way back. Since prehistoric times, we’ve been fascinated by these birds and interacted with them in many ways: From keeping them as pets to breeding them, to decorating ourselves with their colorful feathers and even hunting them for dinner. Despite our long shared history and deep fascination, only in recent decades have we learned anything about the status of the nearly 400 species in the wild, or for that matter taken serious action to save them from extinction. To put the current state of parrot conservation into perspective, it might be

useful to look back at the last several decades to review where we’ve come from. I think you’ll find we’ve come a very long way in a very short time, which is nearly all good news for the future of these spectacular birds. About the time that the World Parrot Trust was founded in the late 1980s, the parrot conservation world was dramatically different from where we are today. Many species which were well known in aviculture remained a mystery in the wild. Even the large spectacular birds like the Lear’s and blue-throated macaws were mysterious; we knew shockingly little about their populations or

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Timneh African grey at nest cavity in Sierra Leone, Africa.

Anything that causes humans to simply leave parrots alone in the wild provides an immediate benefit to their conservation.

even where they could be found, to say nothing of the threats they faced or how to save them. Until then, there had been some outstanding research on a handful of Australian parrots and anomalies like the well-studied Puerto Rican parrot. But with just a few exceptions, most wild parrots remained effectively unknown to researchers and conservationists. And although the international treaty on wildlife trade known as Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) had been in place for more than 15 years by that time, parrots were still being harvested by the millions — largely for the pet trade. We knew little about the impacts of those harvests on the fate of wild parrots. Luckily all this was about to change.


hile we’re all familiar with caring for parrots in captivity, and many of us have been doing so since childhood, the wild parrot is a completely different beast. In reality, these birds are exceptionally hard to study in the wild and most techniques worked out for other birds simply don’t work well for parrots. That’s true if your goal is to discover basic aspects of their ecology such as what they eat, where they nest, whom they socialize with, where they sleep, etc. In a conservation

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context, it’s an even bigger challenge to discover what’s going wrong, why are numbers declining, why aren’t chicks fledging, to say nothing of the difficulty of fixing those problems. In the 80s and 90s, researchers around the world adapted and developed a growing collection of tools that rapidly expanded our knowledge of wild parrots. These included methods of trapping, climbing trees and cliffs, attaching (beak proof!) radio telemetry, and sampling birds for diseases and to study their genetics. Technology has come a long way in the same time frame, from our pre-internet communications being conducted through handwritten letters and the occasional and costly long distance calls to today’s instantly and extremely connected world. As a graduate student studying parrots in a Peruvian forest, I was thrilled to borrow what was then a newfangled GPS unit out of an airplane (the size of a lunch box!) and to haul it up to the top of the rainforest canopy to get the first accurate read on where I was on the planet. Today, our phones, cameras and even watches can gather the same GPS data, and now of course with the click of a mouse, we can easily check satellite images to see if that exact tree still stands. (It does!) Putting all this together, you won’t be surprised to learn that our knowledge of wild parrots has been growing rapidly since that time — in fact, the rate of increase has been literally exponential if measured by the output of scientific papers published. For the conservation of these birds, that’s outstanding news, as this knowledge informs all aspects of our efforts to study the threats parrots face in the wild and to identify effective solutions to reverse declines and hopefully promote the recovery of threatened species. There are now many conservation success stories for parrots we once thought we might lose for good, including the Echo parakeet in Mauritius, the Puerto Rican parrot and the Lear’s macaw, to name just a few. Many of these recoveries are still works in progress of course, but broadly speaking, we’re in a much better position to save parrots from extinction than we’ve ever been. This new knowledge helps on another level as well — that is, our ability as a global conservation community to review the status of wild parrot populations, and to determine how best to rank

After a couple decades of progress, increased knowledge, new tools, and lots of trial and error, it’s turning out that parrots confiscated from trade are often proving to be relatively easy and inexpensive to safely rehabilitate. each in terms of how close it may be to extinction. Ideally, all species can be evaluated fairly so that we aren’t distracted by one group of well known or especially popular species while we may accidentally let other more obscure species go extinct. All this accumulating knowledge feeds into a number of processes, including the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Redlist and global Conservation Action Plans (CAP). This also includes regional reviews of the status and threats faced by parrots and these help us all identify gaps in our knowledge and to set conservation priorities, all of which is part of the bigger picture of conserving parrots effectively and efficiently.


ne thing we’ve learned over the years is that if humans just leave parrots alone, they generally thrive. Humans, however, haven’t been very good about this, especially over the last few centuries. But there has been enormously good news for the fate of parrots on the trade front as well — that is, constraining our predilection for capturing wild parrots to keep as pets. The first major step forward to slow the parrot trade was made by Australia in the late 1950s. To protect their own wild parrots, they banned all imports of exotic species and the harvesting and export of their own native species. The next big step in the parrot trade didn’t come about for another 30 years, when the United States was consuming hundreds of thousands of wild parrots from all over the globe. Out of concern for the conservation impacts of these harvests, a number of environmental organizations in the U.S. pressured Congress to outlaw these imports, or more accurately, to ensure that if they were to be permitted, the traders would have to demonstrate that the harvests were sustainable in reality. That one law passed in 1992, the Wild Bird Conservation

Act converted the United States from the largest importer of wild parrots at the time, to a non-importer, overnight. More progress on stopping the wild parrot trade wasn’t to come for another decade when in the early 2000s, the Europe Union (EU) as a block had become far and away the largest importer of all sorts of wild birds — not just parrots. Their imports alone totaled upwards of 2 million birds a year of species listed on CITES — exceeding greater than 90 percent of the wild birds in trade around the globe. A groundswell of more than 240 conservation and welfare organizations pressured the EU to rethink their trade policies, which led them to task their own scientific body to evaluate these concerns. The resulting reports were conclusive and powerfully supportive of an outright ban on wild bird imports, and they provided the basis to convert a temporary ban in 2005 into a permanent ban in 2007. Now over a decade later, we’ve seen dramatic a drop in bird trade

Jamie Gilardi, World Parrot Trust executive director, in New Zealand with kea parrots.

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Top row (left to right): Blue-throated macaws in the wild; Jamie Gilardi at a field survey in Sumba, Indonesia; Rowan Martin WPT Africa program director surveying timneh grey parrots in GuineaBissau.

Left: Rowan Martin, WPT Africa program director, installing nest boxes in Guinea-Bissau. Right: Scarlet macaw at Maya ruins in Copán, Honduras.

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numbers — on the order of a 90-percent decline. We’re not out of the woods yet, but that’s been a huge leap forward, sparing the lives of tens of millions of wild birds. In more recent years, progress continued as more countries stop the commercial exploitation of their wild parrots, and legal trade in some species has led to proactive steps to eliminate this threat. There has been no better example than recent action to protect African grey parrots, which had been among the most heavily harvested of all wild parrots. Concerns about rapid and recent declines in the wild inspired Gabon and many other countries where greys are found to urge CITES to protect both the timneh and Congo African grey parrot from legal trapping across tropical Africa. In late 2016, more than 150 countries supported their call for action, effectively ending the legal trade in these species.


f course, anything that causes humans to simply leave parrots alone in the wild provides an immediate benefit to their conservation, and that has always been the primary motivator behind these actions to end the trade in wild birds. But there has been another benefit to parrot conservation, which has come about as a result of the widespread and growing enforcement of wildlife laws. In fact, this benefit was entirely unexpected, but one which is helping to transform how we approach — and hopefully succeed in — the restoration of parrot populations for many species and in many parts of the world. As recently as the late 1990s, the general impression among parrot researchers and conservationists was that any parrots confiscated from traders were simply a liability. They were thought to be either incapable of surviving in the

A blue-throated macaw youngster receives a thorough but gentle health check.

wild or they were assumed to be riddled with diseases, and it was broadly accepted that such birds could never make a contribution to the recovery of wild populations. To be fair, we had good reasons for thinking these things at the time, partly because some parrot reintroductions up until then had proved challenging, and our ability to identify, screen for and treat many infectious diseases in parrots was limited. Lucky for parrots and their conservation, these hesitations proved largely unfounded. After a couple decades of progress, increased knowledge, new tools, and lots of trial and error, it’s turning out that parrots confiscated from trade are often proving to be relatively easy and inexpensive to safely rehabilitate. With supportive care, in most cases these birds can regain their flight conditioning and,

There have been enormously encouraging strides in parrot conservation in recent decades. They’ve happened because many dedicated people from many different backgrounds have worked hard on behalf of parrots; whether they are scientists, conservationists, aviculturists, veterinarians, zookeepers or pet parrot owners. JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 77

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James Gilardi is the executive director for the World Parrot Trust. He is also a conservation biologist specializing in behavioral and physiological ecology.


In the decade since a permanent ban on wild bird imports in 2007, we’ve seen a dramatic drop in bird trade numbers — on the order of a 90-percent decline.

with a bit of preparation, be successfully released back into the wild. That not only gives these individual birds a second chance to survive after the horror of being trapped and traded, it’s proving to be a useful tool to starting new populations. Because conservationists can choose where and when to release such birds, they can often be released into areas where the species has been driven to extinction, thereby reintroducing a population of birds to their former range. And because such a wide variety and large numbers of parrots have been confiscated from traffickers in recent years, we now have had experience releasing thousands of individuals of various species, all around the world. Naturally, these lessons learned from releasing confiscated birds translate directly to reintroducing parrots from nearly any source — whether they are captive-bred youngsters, middle-aged former breeders or even birds long held in captive settings. For those of us working to help restore threatened parrots in the wild, having this powerful new tool to add to the tool belt has become a game changer in how we approach some of the thorniest problems in parrot conservation. In Copán, Honduras, for example, the scarlet macaw long ago went extinct, almost certainly due to trapping for the pet trade. In the last few years, a collaborative initiative to restore the macaw there combined education of

local communities, rehabilitation of confiscated and donated birds and captive bred birds from a local bird park, all leading to several successful releases. Now there is a growing population of scarlets there, several released pairs have bred successfully, and some are now making international flights into Guatemala! And the best part is, as the national bird of Honduras, the Scarlet Macaw Project in Copán is now inspiring more reintroductions in other parts of the country, with the long-term hope that the species can be restored to much of its former range. It would, of course, be hugely misleading if I painted a picture of parrot conservation which is uniformly rosy — it clearly is not. A staggering percentage of parrot species remain threatened in the wild. Human populations continue to grow, the planet continues to warm and crucial habitat is cut down. There remains an enormous amount of work to be done to save parrots. But I hope this meander through the recent developments in parrot conservation helps clarify how much progress has been made, how much more we know about the threats faced by wild parrots, and the growing number of tools we now have which empower our efforts to save them for good. I’ll close with one last thought which I think all people who care about parrots might bear in mind: there have indeed been enormously encouraging strides in parrot conservation in recent decades, but these advances haven’t just happened on their own. They’ve happened because many dedicated people from many different backgrounds have worked hard on behalf of parrots; whether they are scientists, conservationists, aviculturists, veterinarians, zookeepers or pet parrot owners … All have helped make this progress possible. One thing’s for sure, if it weren’t for millions of people who love parrots around the globe, the World Parrot Trust and many organizations like us — and more importantly all our collective efforts to conserve parrots — would never exist. So, thank you for your concern and support, and hopefully we can continue to keep working together to ensure a bright future for all wild parrots. •

Top: Wild yellow-crested cockatoo in Indonesia. Bottom left: scarlet macaws at Maya ruins in Copán, Honduras. Right: Bluethroated macaw in Bolovia.

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Tiny Bird Garden: A Review

Bring birds to your phone with this adorable mini-game. By Jessica Pineda


live in a place where few wild birds visit. There aren’t enough trees or plants for them to hang out or feed on, and my attempts to cajole birds over with a feeder hasn’t worked. So what does a girl who wants to have a bird garden experience do? Well, as the saying goes: There’s an app for that. That app/game is Tiny Bird Garden, developed by the indie design company, Super Retro Duck. In the game, you get virtual bird garden that can you decorate with cute little perches, toys and birdhouses, before you fill up the bird feeder. And then, the tiny little birds come to visit, just like you want them to in real life. At its core, that’s all the game is: Put out bird seed and buy cute perch- and

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birdhouse-like objects for them to hang out on. That’s just the beginning of what makes the game so amazing, though. THE TINY BIRDS MAKE THE GAME First off, the tiny birds of Tiny Bird Garden are adorable. Some are clearly par-

to take cues from listening to the birds and reading their bios, which are often hilarious. (If you’re a millennial, go read Avocado’s bio.) However, as fun as it is, there’s no pressure to find their gifts. My first few times playing the game, I just put star crowns on all my birds and called it a day. Then when the Tiny Birds leave, they

You’ll learn to love the notes the birds leave you as much as you’ll love dressing them up and giving them gifts of the cereal Birb O’s. rot inspired: There are Mango and Lala, who both look like they’re based off peach-faced lovebirds. There's Chuck, who is clearly based off a cockatiel (and really loves dinosaurs). Other birds clearly take after woodpeckers and penguins; others are just silly, like Cheesie who looks like cheese, and Robo, who looks like R2-D2 if the droid were a bird. Did I mention all of the birds are adorable? It doesn’t stop there, though. You can interact with the birds by giving them gifts and little hats. The hats range from normal caps and earmuffs to things you wouldn’t consider hats, such as a block of cheese or a tiny bowl of spaghetti. In the end, it makes a strange sort of sense: "Of course a parrot would wear a colander on their head if they could," you’ll find yourself thinking. That’s just so bird. Each bird has a favorite hat too, along with a favorite treat and toy. Finding out who likes what is worth it when you see the tiny birds’ eyes light up when they receive the perfect gift. Figuring out what they love is fun too: You’ll have

gift you with little letters, thanking you for letting them visit or making cute jokes. You’ll learn to love the notes the birds leave you as much as you’ll love dressing them up and giving them gifts of the cereal Birb O’s. TINY THERAPEUTIC BIRD GARDEN? Aside from dressing up the birds and reading their heartfelt letters, I find this game to be incredibly therapeutic. Not only do I find it peaceful with the light upbeat music and adorable little birds, the birds themselves and the human guides often ask you how you are. They’ll ask if you got enough rest. They’ll tell you how much they love that you provided them with such a nice garden. I struggle with depression, and sometimes you need someone asking you those things. How are you? Did you get enough rest? It makes you stop and think, “Am I OK? Am I well-rested?” Likewise with the birds thanking you for being nice to them. Sometimes depression leaves you feeling awful — like

you can do nothing right. With the tiny birds, you can’t fail them and that can be a huge pick-me-up. The game can also help you keep a schedule (did you feed the tiny birds yet?) and help you with mindfulness. That’s taking the time to be mindful of your surroundings, and living in the present. That’s much easier to do when you can look at your garden and watch the birds sleep, peck at things and dance in place.


A GAME MADE BY BIRD ENTHUSIASTS I could go on and on about how amazing this game is. I think one of the main reasons I love the game so much is that it’s made by two people who love birds and birdwatching and it shows. A lot of times, birds are just afterthoughts to game developers, or us bird people aren’t catered to at all. Tiny Bird Garden solves that problem. Illustrator and musician Daisy Ein and pixel artist/programmer Zap Layden are the creative team behind the game and Super Retro Duck, who first made the game as a gift but turned it into the team’s first major project. They took inspiration from popular games such as Hit-Point’s Neko Atsume and Nintendo’s Animal Crossing. Best part? They made the game free to play. You’re not limited in what you can do either. It’s fairly easy to collect the feathers needed to buy the birds their hats and gifts. Also, it’s relatively inexpensive to purchase the highly prized shiny feathers to expand your garden and buy other garden themes. The team is also super responsive on social media, and often give you hints on what hats and toys the birds like. In short, Tiny Bird Garden deserves a place on your phone. Download it now on your iPhone or Android for free by visiting • JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI R D TA L K • 81

Is Net Neutrality for the Birds?

The internet has helped bird owners connect around the world. What would happen if there were restrictions placed on it?


By T. Ray Verteramo

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he invention of the internet has connected the world in ways only imaginable by Star Trek 50 years ago. Here we are in the 21st century, with the world at our fingertips. For at least 20 million of us in the United States alone, according to, our worlds revolve around our birds. We rely on the internet to diagnose difficult behavior, find new recipes, safety reports about toys, and even to adopt a rescue or find a lost bird. The internet also allows bird owners to connect and obsess about our birds freely and compassionately. Social media groups on Facebook or Twitter provide thousands of bird owners a sense of community, support and entertainment. Even though the majority of bird and bird accessory sales are made from large chains like PetSmart, over any other market, 40 percent of owners make their purchases online. Most importantly, the internet has been an invaluable tool for small businesses who specialize in avian behavior, avian healthcare, grooming and/or breeding. When a parrot owner becomes too ill to care for their beloved, the first

thing they do is post on the internet. But, on December 13, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced that those consumer protections against corporate favoritism, otherwise known as “net neutrality,” would be repealed. Those who do not understand what that means believe that this repeal would make way for a more open and competitive market. In fact, this does the opposite. Sarah Berger reported on CNBC

“We need to go old school and learn not to depend on the internet as much as we do ... We need to share our contact information with each other in case we need help. In essence, we need to redefine how our community functions.” JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 83

repeal of net neutrality will affect your bird, it is vital to understand how it will affect you first. NO NET NEUTRALITY: HOW IT’D WORK Right now, in the United States, internet companies can offer data and speed packages but they cannot regulate content itself. They cannot block you from any sites, services or news platforms.

What Can I Do? • Contact your state senator. Call, don’t write. Leave a message. Let them know that you support net neutrality and as your representative, it is their duty to be your voice.

• Use social media, blogs, or any means to communicate to educate people on the net neutrality. Let them know the risks of having it permanently repealed.

• There are petitions to save net neutrality. Sign them and share them – they work! White

• Use your wallet. Contact your ISP and tell them, “If you don’t

support net neutrality, you’ll lose a customer!” If they refuse, then change your service. So far, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint have joined the fight against the repeal.

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They cannot censor or edit any material that they do not own the rights to and they cannot favor any site, service, or news platforms. In other words, for example, mobile phone service provider can sell a data package for $25 per month, with unlimited calls and texts for five gigabytes (GB) of online data. Until those five GBs are used, the consumer can go wherever they want to go, surf however they like to surf, shop wherever they like to shop, write whatever they like to write and read whatever they would like to read. Without those regulations, if your mobile phone service provider could sell those same $25 packages, but only allow access to Facebook, email and one streaming service. In this scenario, if someone wants to read the news, for example, they would have to pay extra. If someone wants to access a shopping site, they would have to pay extra. Essentially, your internet service would be determined and billed no differently than your cable. Your provider would be able to decide what packages you can access, how fast or how slow. So, if the major telephonic corporations have a contract with other major corporations, they would be in the driver’s seat on the information highway. Most of these major players share ownership with other media corporations, who dictate what we see on TV, hear on the radio and experience online. More traffic means more money, so the risk of “fast” and “slow lanes” would be devastating to private or small businesses, including bird breeders, sanctuaries and rescue centers, non-profit organizations, online blogs and avian care facilities. HOW THE INTERNET HELPED BIRD OWNERS Kim Waldie, resident of Mechanicsville, N.Y., has been working with birds for more than 28 years, starting in an old mom-and-pop shop in the historic Village of Fishkill as a teenager. She remembers a time when information was gathered by books or first-hand from passionate vets and breeders. However, she also remembers the remarkable difference the internet made to their business and their birds. “Access to information and the ability to have a large community to bounce ideas off of and get help, and also the ability to obtain a wide variety


that “The FCC’s decision this month to rollback Obama-era net neutrality rules has been met with fierce backlash from the National Small Business Association, e-commerce entrepreneurs and side-hustlers alike. They fear that if internet service providers can speed up, slow down or even restrict access to certain sites, costs associated with doing business online will go up and they’ll lose customers.” In order to understand how the


of products, such as foods, toys, and cages at various price points, the ability to find avian vets, as well, made life so much easier,” Waldie said. Waldie has helped people all over the world work with their birds, specializing in vasa parrots. With the looming threat of net neutrality repeal, she has many concerns. “Will we be able to find the information we need, or to connect with the bird community?” she asked. “What about our access to avian research? A lot of people go the extra mile in learning about the species of birds they have. They look for research into the wild behavior and diet of the birds they keep. I worry that the web of bird people and information that we now have will be less accessible, and the care of parrots will suffer.” HOW NET NEUTRALITY COULD AFFECT THE MARKET What about the rest of the market? Breeders or veterinarians? Most breeders are privately owned or small businesses. If access to their services are bottlenecked by corporate favoritism,

the risk of their birds being displaced would drastically rise, leaving them little option but to either close shop or provide to the larger chains. Since the top five veterinary billing software systems are all cloud-based, your birds’ medical records could also be at risk of getting lost or even blocked. If those service providers do not pay more money to the internet service providers (ISP) that choose not to voluntarily follow net neutrality guidelines, those extra expenses would subsequently fall back to you, the bird owner, which would make avian healthcare even pricier. One of the major reasons why bird owners surrender their parrots is because they can no longer handle the expense of special needs or ill birds. If the price should rise even higher, so could the risk of rehoming or euthanasia. Both options are traumatic.

Since the top five veterinary billing software systems are all cloud-based, your birds’ medical records could be at risk of getting lost or even blocked.

NET NEUTRALITY COULD AFFECT PARROT EDUCATION The greatest risk to a bird’s health today, even with neutral access to the internet, is the lack of education. Contrary to JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 85

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When I did a presentation in my undergraduate civic engagement class, I chose a local parrot rehoming and rescue service for my topic. The 20 or so millennials looked at me as if I had grown an additional head. Many had chosen other worthy causes to volunteer and present, so the idea that someone would “waste their time” on “stupid birds” was puzzling to them, at first. But, then came the educational video about the different species, their incredible vocal abilities, their playful personalities, and their irresistible beauty and suddenly, the class became a captive audience. They oohed and aaahed like little kids discovering a new shiny thing. They “wowed” out loud when they discovered that parrots can live as long as humans and that they can be trained to interact with us as invaluable, compassionate and loyal companions. Most of those students didn’t know that there were different kinds of parrots, let alone that parrots are an option to have in their home.

The general population believes that parrots are creatures of fantasy, accessed only in photos of exotic lands and dreams of paradise. So, when they see a parrot in real life, in their own neighborhood, it is a curious new discovery. Many ask questions like, “does it talk?” (much to the annoyance of many owners) because they are genuinely ignorant. If there is not enough education and publicity to enlighten the public of these remarkable creatures now, what will happen with the restrictions of the internet? Would enough people be able to, or be willing to, pay more money to access websites and other private organizations that specialize in birds? Would there be enough resources to be able to provide preliminary home care in case of an emergency? As it stands today, the bird ownership community seems so small and exclusive, which is contrary to the domestic bird population. Where are all these birds going? How are they being treated? How are we to ensure


popular belief, birds are not the same as cats or dogs. Because parrots are not as visible in the media as other animals, the public is less aware of them — and this is very much a multi-tasking, “out of sight, out of mind” society. Most new parrot owners are not aware that birds require specialized vet care or time out of their cages, a specialized diet or reliable times of interaction with their owners. Most birds are surrendered once the chick reaches sexual maturity and the aggression kicks in. Parrots are not “wild” as some people would contest, but highly demonstrative, sensitive and moody, which can make them difficult to handle. For some birds, the only way they know how to express their fear or displeasure is through screaming or biting. Either are very intense and can be very scary. Unfortunately, there are too many owners who would rather give up than learn how to work with their bird and find mutual happiness together in a happy, healthy, forever home.

the safety, health and happiness of our parrots when our primary source of connection is threatened? Waldie recommended that parrot owners should be prepared for the worst-case scenario. “I think that bringing back parrot magazines will be vital in getting information out to people,” she advised. “Small business advertising in print will help to get supplies out. Bringing back avian forums as opposed to Facebook groups, since we might

have to pay extra for Facebook, will become important in maintaining the avian community. Knowing the phone numbers to the online small business will help in placing orders if you cannot access them online. Do research now in respect to finding avian vets, foods, cages, supplies and species information and keep a paper copy of this information will help in the future.” She also recommended that owners join bird clubs to maintain communities

where the trading of information is important. “We need to go old school and learn not to depend on the internet as much as we do,” she said. “We need to share our contact information with each other in case we need help. In essence, we need to redefine how our community functions.” • T. Ray Verteramo is a freelance writer based out of Las Vegas.

How to Prepare for Internet Disruption • Keep a hard copy of your bird’s medical records and prescriptions. Request for copies after each vet visit.

• Do whatever research you can and take notes.


Keep a notebook or binder handy.

• Write emergency phone numbers down and keep them visible. This includes your vet, your local food provider and your birdsitter.

• Subscribe to magazines. Keep key clippings,

such as recipes and behavioral first aid tips in your notebook.

• Have an emergency stock on food, and keep it in a cool, dry place or the refrigerator.

• Network with local parrot owners in

your community. Form a support group. If one cannot be found, then use your local library and see what resources it has to help you find other parrot owners.

• Whenever possible, teach people about your

birds. Inform the public that they are not birds of fantasy, that they are real and they have real needs.

• Volunteer at your local bird rescue or sanctuary. • Hold benefits, auctions, GoFundMe campaigns and social functions to raise funds for bird care and parrot owners in need for your community and local rescues.

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Bird Behavior Basics If you understand your bird’s ways, you’ll be off to a great start. By Jamie Whittaker

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perfect. The interaction is much more complicated than that. Unfortunately, many people take it personally when birds scream or bite, but it really isn’t personal for the bird. Birds don’t really have bad behaviors. They sometimes have behaviors that do not work for people in the household. However, those same birds may display different behaviors in a different environment.

WHY DOES YOUR BIRD VOCALIZE? Sometimes, new owners think their birds are screaming at them. Screaming is really not a good word to use for this behavior. Screaming is a sound of distress. When you hear a bird vocalizing it has a different effect than hearing a bird screaming. The sound is the same, but vocalizing sounds like a normal activity. The loud sounds that birds make are natural. Birds make those sounds for many reasons in nature. The people that hear the sounds are the ones that call it screaming. It is natural for birds to vocalize in the morning. “It is a brand new day! I made it through the night without a problem. Is everyone else OK this morning? What is going on for breakfast? I am a beautiful bird and it is a beautiful day and life is wonderful.” It is natural for birds to vocalize at the end of the day. “Is everyone OK? Did you do anything fun today? I had a happy day! It is time to get ready for bed.” Birds vocalize as an alarm or a warning to others. Dogs or people walking by the window may result in a loud sound. The intruder keeps going and, so in the bird’s mind, he has successfully chased away the threat. The next time an intruder approaches it would be natural to sound the alarm again. To stay in touch with flock members, birds use a loud call. There is great danger in being separated from the flock in nature. When birds are alone there’s a chance they may not be able to find their way back to the flock. The bird sends out a contact call and someone comes back into the room, so this signals to the bird that he has been successful in bringing his flock back together.



any new bird owners don’t know what to make of their bird’s actions. Unlike other pets, many people don’t have a frame of reference when it comes to understanding avian behavior. Bird behaviors are very dependent on the environment. That doesn’t mean neglected birds have bad behaviors and birds that are loved and spoiled are


LIVING IN HARMONY How can we work with the bird’s natural behaviors and still live in a normal household of people? The sounds that we hear from birds are very rarely sounds of distress. The sounds may cause great distress in the owner and in the family, but for the bird, there is no distress. These behaviors are all natural and normal sounds; it is the environment that reinforces those behaviors. The most important general point about vocalizing is: Anything that is done, consistently, as a result of vocalizing will either positively or negatively reinforce or punish that behavior. This includes, but is not limited to: • Spraying with water • Putting the bird in timeout • Covering the cage • Taking the bird out of the cage • Putting the bird into the cage • Giving treats to the bird • Taking away food • Turning on music • Yelling at the bird • Walking over to the cage

What can you do? Train your bird to make a different sound that almost always results in positive reinforcement. Most birds train easily with small pieces of favorite foods. Almond pieces work for most birds. Pumpkin seeds are usually a favorite for quaker parrots, other tree nuts in small pieces work too. Words, clicking sounds, or kisses become a substitute for those natural vocalizations. Birds will still use their natural sounds too, but when they are looking for reinforcement from the environment they will make the new sound that you have taught them. BITING BASICS Beaks are amazing appendages. Birds may not have thumbs, but they use their beaks in many of the same ways. Many people find beaks intimidating and birds are often able to get what they want by using them. The most common reason for parrots to bite people is a history of getting positive feedback from the environment for biting. Every time a bird bites it makes him more likely to bite again. Biting is

The most important general point about vocalizing is: Anything that is done, consistently, as a result of vocalizing will either positively or negatively reinforce or punish that behavior.

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Bird behaviors are very dependent on the environment. That doesn’t mean neglected birds have bad behaviors and birds that are loved and spoiled are perfect. The interaction is much more complicated than that.

something that we inadvertently train our birds to do. For example, Sue wants to take her Amazon out of the cage and put him on his play stand. The Amazon has been watching the birds outside and really doesn’t want to leave his cage right now. Sue insists and continues to try to get him to step up. Finally, he reaches down to push her hand away and makes contact with his beak. Sue pulls her hand out to avoid being bitten. The result is that her bird has just learned how to get her to go away and leave him alone. Consider another example: John is holding his conure on his hand while he watches television. The bird has been there for 30 minutes and there is nothing to do sitting on John’s hand. Eventually, out of boredom, he starts to chew on the perch he is standing on — this perch that is also known as John’s finger. The chewing gets harder and John feels a bite. John puts his bird back into his cage to teach him a lesson. John has just taught his conure how to let him know that he wants to go back in his cage. Both of these examples are very common and very avoidable. Birds have a strong sense of personal space and they generally use clear body language to let you know when you are violating their space. Pay attention to your bird’s body language. Most of us want our birds to learn our language, but we will have a

Bird Behavior in a Nutshell Security is very important to birds. They want an environment where they can feel safe and secure. Personal space is important to birds. Their personal space needs may vary with seasons and with people, but they all have a line somewhere that should not be crossed. Birds adjust their behaviors based on feedback from the environment. This is not limited to birds; it is natural for every living creature. Even plants change their orientation and growth because of feedback from the environment. Birds are joyous and happy! Birds and people can have wonderful lives together.

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better relationship with them if we also learn their language. DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR This is another instance where our language makes a natural behavior sound negative. Parrots chew wood and anything else chewable. The label that people use for this behavior is “destructive.” The parrot is not being destructive; he is simply chewing the wood. A parrot’s point of view is that wood needs to be chewed. There may be food hiding in that wood. It is the parrot’s job to get to the bottom or the middle of anything that may be hiding something important. That magnificent beak does not stay in good condition by never using it. Chewing is important, it is natural and it isn’t destructive. Some birds chew walls, floors and furniture. They are not angry. Their motivation is the same as their motivation to chew their toys. If a bird is going to be left unattended, then anything his beak can reach is fair game for chewing. This is just an important rule for people who own birds to remember. If your bird’s cage is next to your grandmother’s antique wood buffet, the buffet will come out on the losing end of the encounter. It is not the bird’s fault, he is being a bird and that is a wonderful thing to be!


SHY BIRDS Shy is a label that is often used to refer to birds that will not leave their cage, or for birds that refuse to step or stay on a hand. It is common for people to think that these birds have been abused physically but that is not usually the case. Many small birds go through a natural shy phase as they mature. It is common for people to hold them and cuddle them when they are babies. Baby birds are very receptive to being cuddled. The fact is that this is one of the behaviors that really is not natural for birds. In nature, when a mammal covers a bird’s body and holds them close they are not likely to survive. A day will come when a baby bird will realize cuddling makes him uncomfortable. He knows that when he comes out of his nice, comfy house that you

are going to cuddle him. The answer for him is to not come out. Respect your bird’s personal space. Hold your baby birds close, but do not restrain them. When they want to move away from the head scratches, let them move away. Find a way to reward the cuddling, maybe with small treats from your hand. Cuddling is rewarding for people, but it is not natural or comfortable for most birds. If your bird becomes shy about coming out of his house do not force him to come out. Offer treats from your hand and give him an opportunity to come to the door and step onto your hand. •

Cuddling is rewarding for people, but it is not natural or comfortable for most birds.

Jamie Whittaker is a certified parrot behavior consultant and has been involved in helping parrots start new lives for 30 years. Learn more about her at her website JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 91

Heat Stroke Quiz

Think you know about birds and heatstroke? Take this quiz to find out!


t’s summer and that means hot days are upon us. While many birds come from tropical climates where heat is normal, they can become overheated and suffer heatstroke.

What is heatstroke? This condition is also known as hyperthermia, and occurs when a bird cannot cool itself down and lose extra body heat. Do you know the signs of heatstroke and what to do about it?

Keep Your Pet Bird Cool Mist your pet bird Run a fan to keep air circulating.* (If the fan is on, keep your bird inside its cage for its safety.) Run the air conditioner. Place your bird’s feet in a shallow pan of cool water. Provide shade for your bird. Provide water or an electrolyte solution.

* Make sure the fan or air conditioner is not blasting air directly on your bird.

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1.) Which of the following behaviors is not a sign of heatstroke? a. Holding the wings out b. Panting c. Difficulty keeping balance d. Feather picking 2.) If you suspect your bird has heatstroke, what step should you take immediately? a. Lie your bird on its back. b. Mist your bird with cool, not cold, water c. Give your bird something to eat d. Perform CPR on your bird 3.) Which signs do birds with heatstroke experience, but not those with heat stress? a. Panting b. Holding the wings out c. Convulsions d. Elevated heart rate 4.) What should you do to help prevent heatstroke in a bird that spends time outdoors? a. Make sure your bird has access to shade and clean drinking water. b. Hang your bird’s cage up high so it will catch a breeze. c. Check your bird frequently for signs of discomfort from the heat. d. Both a and c 5.) How can you help prevent shock in a bird with heatstroke? a. Feed the bird b. After misting your bird, take it to a veterinarian immediately. c. Keep the bird calm d. Both b and c

Answers 1.) The answer is D. Feather picking is not a sign of heatstroke. A bird suffering from heatstroke will hold its wings out, pant, and/or have difficulty keeping its balance. In addition to the three signs listed, weakness, a dazed expression and dry skin also indicate possible heatstroke. A bird that starts convulsing due to heatstroke is in immediate danger and could slip into a coma and die, so immediate action is necessary. Obese birds are more prone to heatstroke.


2.) The answer is B. An immediate step to take if you suspect your bird has heatstroke is to mist your bird with cool, not cold, water. Also, take your bird to a cool, well-ventilated area. Place your bird’s feet in a shallow pan of cool water if it can stand, but do not do this to an unconscious bird. If you suspect heatstroke, contact your avian vet immediately. 3.) The answer is C. Birds suffering from heat stress do not have convulsions, nor do they lose consciousness. Heatstressed birds might hold their wings out and pant. While heat stress is not as deadly as heatstroke can be, this form of stress can affect your bird in the long run and lead to infection or illness. 4.) The answer is D. Birds that spend time outdoors should be provided with shade and clean drinking water, and checked on frequently to make sure they are not suffering from heat stress. Birds that are acclimated to outdoor housing and have access to shade and water typically do not suffer from heatstroke.

5.) The answer is D. Keep your bird calm, and immediately take it to a veterinarian if you suspect it has heatstroke. If your pet bird starts to convulse, give it a cool (not cold!) misting with soapy water (dish soap mixed with water), as the soap will help get the water under the feathers to the bird’s body. (Do not use soapy water on your bird in other instances unless directed by a vet.) Take your bird to avian veterinarian for a checkup.

No. 1 Cause of Heatstroke? Leaving a bird in a car on a hot day is the most common cause of heatstroke. Birds can tolerate relatively high temperatures as long as they have time to acclimate. If the temperature suddenly shoots up without time for your bird to adjust (as it would in a car) it is more prone to suffer from heatstroke.

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Back in the Day

How a TV show changed how we looked at parrots. By Chris Davis

Birds are magical. This column is a joyful celebration of birds, their behaviors and of all the things that make them so special to those lucky enough to have them in their lives. I am consumed heart and soul by the presence of birds. Every aspect of them is intriguing and lifts my spirit. Nothing feels as joyful as hearing a happy and contented bird trilling, talking or even quietly enjoying a morsel of food. When birds laugh, it is impossible to not join in, regardless of the circumstances of the day. Conversely, nothing can rend my heart and soul as deeply as the loss of a beloved avian companion, or when a bird is ill or has been the subject of cruelty or neglect. Heart to Heart will share experiences and information regarding our feathered family members. Usually, it will be educational, uplifting and joyful, reflecting my own experiences and attitudes toward birds. Occasionally, it may stretch your mind and even be controversial, challenging some antiquated beliefs of what birds are capable of regarding their intelligence, surroundings, their interactions with each other and their relationships with the people and animals that share their lives. I invite you to share your own experiences and questions. 94 • B IR D TALK • JUNE/JULY 2018


id you know that birds weren’t always as popular as they are today? Before the 1970s, few people kept birds. Those who did mostly kept smaller varieties such as budgies, cockatiels, canaries and finches. Occasionally, parrotlets or small conures were also offered. They were usually sold in pet stores and in what were called “dime” or “variety” stores. Few shops or people had larger birds and those few that were available were not commonly bred in captivity. They were captured in the wild and brought into the United States, where they underwent a stressful quarantine process before being sold to pet stores or brokers and then to the public. Most parrots in those days began their lives as truly wild animals; many were older birds, few were friendly and those that were thought to be friendly were often just weak with illness. Because of this, most people thought that the larger birds were naturally “mean,” stupid, or aggressive, without understanding that their behavior was simply a direct result of having been wild animals. No one considered the fact that they were the victims of rough capture and transport and many other terrible events that they had experienced at the hands of human beings. In the vast majority of cases, there was absolutely nothing that happened to them which would encourage them to like or trust people. Understandably, this erroneous belief kept most people from even wanting a large bird.

Then, in the late 1970s, an event occurred that caused their popularity to skyrocket. Things between humans and birds would never be the same. THE IMPACT OF “BARETTA” In the late 1970s, there was a television show titled “Baretta,” in which a tough streetwise police officer kept a clever pet cockatoo named “Fred,” whose charming antics quickly changed people’s attitudes regarding parrots and all birds. Unfortunately for wild birds, this subsequently lead to a huge swell in their popularity, capture in the wild, importation and sale. People had an unrealistic idea of what a bird should and could do. Many believed that just any bird could do all of the cute things that they saw Fred doing on television. On the positive side, it was the beginning of a changing attitude where people eventually realized that birds could be truly wonderful companions. However, this took time to happen and there were some rocky times in between. The main or original Fred was actually a bird named Lala, who was one of the many birds and other animals belonging to Ray Berwick. At that time, Berwick was the owner of the Animal Actors Studio at Universal Studios, in Universal City, Calif. Fred was featured in some portion of many of the episodes of the program. Several cockatoos played the part of Fred, including Sweetheart, whom I worked with at Lion Country


In the 1970s, most people thought parrots couldn’t be trained. Fred from ABC’s Baretta (below) changed peoples’ minds.

Safari in Irvine, Calif. Sweetheart was used for snuggly scenes. There was another flight-trained cockatoo that was used in scenes that required “Fred” to fly; and, another used for public events and some shows. From my own experiences, I found that Lala was exceptionally intelligent and assertive. At that time, I worked at the trained bird show, also owned by Ray Berwick, at a Lion Country Safari Park. I also worked at the Universal Studio’s show. Unfortunately, it was a very long commute and I asked to work there only during the busiest times of the year, preferring to work at the Lion Country Safari show, which was much closer to my home. Working at both parks gave me a unique perspective in how the general public regarded birds. People would often ask us about how to solve behavior problems that their own birds were exhibiting. I always asked them about what techniques of behavior modification information they had received, from shops and individuals who had birds, and I was shocked at what they said. THE VIEW ON PARROT BEHAVIOR AND TRAINING WAS MUCH DIFFERENT No one thought that birds could be worked with behaviorally! They felt that they could train them to do fun things, but that any form of behavioral

modification was impossible because they weren’t capable of learning that sort of thing. I was stunned. I had trained dogs since I was 12 years of age and understood both training and behavior. My blue-and-gold macaw that I was lucky enough to have purchased as a baby from a rare local breeder was as smart as a child and understood everything that I said or did. The assumptions that people made were coming from their expectations and hearsay, rather than with any personal experiences with the birds’ actual abilities. Some of the suggested “taming techniques” were barbaric. One consisted of withholding food for long periods so

that they could feed the hungry birds by hand, the theory being that the birds would then “trust” the people who fed them. No one thought that birds were smart enough to know that the people were also starving them and that they needed to comply with the ones providing the food or they would die. Although effective at getting the bird to interact with the person, this was not a way to build friendships or to gain trust. Corrective “techniques” were even worse. A popular one was to slap a bird or throw it to the floor if it tried to bite. Screaming birds would often be struck, or shut inside a dark closet, or placed in their cage in a garage, or on an outside porch where they were vulnerable to inclement weather and predators. Some people would stand in front of the bird and scream back at it. Again, it was not a way to build a friendship, trust or respect. Clearly, it was time for things to change and, thankfully, they did. A wonderful and timely synchronicity occurred, in which a handful of likeminded people located across the United States, unbeknownst to each other, decided to alter and improve how birds were interacted with. Next month’s column will share some of those changes. • In the 1970s, Chris Davis became one of the pioneers of the field of companion bird behavior modification.

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The Importance of Understanding Reinforcers If you want to understand why your bird does what she does, it starts with understanding why that behavior exists in the first place. By Lara Joseph


here are several places we could begin to understand our bird’s behavior better. One could be taking the time to identify reinforcers. Reinforcers are anything that occurs after a behavior that causes the future rate of that behavior to maintain or increase. Before defining reinforcers, let’s first explain behavior. Behavior is anything the bird does. It is observable and measurable. Some examples of it include: walking, flying, sleeping, perching motionless, vocalizing, eating, running, biting, screaming, etc. A key to understanding behavior is being able to describe it accurately. This is where it is essential to be specific. For example, let’s carefully define the act of biting. What does it look like? Put the definition into observable and measurable terms. It is the behavior of the top and bottom beak coming together onto an item. Birds bite food, toys, people and many other things. We can identify and modify the behavior of biting by recognizing the reason it exists. When we do this, we will have identified the reinforcer behind the action. Many people have a hard time distinguishing the reinforcer, hence the reason for this article. BE SPECIFIC ABOUT IDENTIFYING BEHAVIOR Both desired and undesired behaviors can be reinforced. A bird biting a toy

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is a desired behavior whereas biting a hand may not be. If a bird is interacting with a toy, be specific in identifying what toy parts the bird is chewing on. Is it a piece of wood? What type of wood? Is it balsa or pine? Is it a 1-inch thick piece of wood or a 2-inch thick piece of wood? If the wood is 1-inch thick balsa and the bird is not biting the balsa that is 2 inches thick, then the reinforcer of the biting is the thickness of the balsa. Let’s say all 1 inch and 2-inch pieces of pine are not being interacted with. Then the reinforcer is also the balsa, not the pine. This behavior is observable and measurable. The biting of the 1-inch thick balsa is being reinforced whereas the biting any of the pieces of pine are zero and not being reinforced. IDENTIFYING WHY UNDESIRED BEHAVIORS HAPPEN AND HOW POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT WORKS For many, the behavior of biting a person’s hand is undesired. When does the action occur and when doesn’t it? Let’s look at the example of a bird biting a visitor. What is the visitor doing when the behavior appears? Say the action occurs when the visitor sticks their hand into the cage, but it doesn’t happen when the bird is out of its cage. This helps us identify that there is something about the bird being in the cage when the visitor’s hand enters that is reinforcing the

undesired behavior. Now that we have broken this down, we can begin working on changing the unwanted behavior. Now let’s talk about positive reinforcers. Positive reinforcers are specific events that happen after a behavior that cause that future rate of that specific behavior to continue or increase because something has been added. Positive reinforcers are always things of value to the bird such as a pine nut, a head scratch or interaction with a preferred person. The bird is the one that decides the positive reinforcer, not us. These reinforcers can also change if something in the immediate environment changes. Reinforcers are always determined by the bird, and those that bring desired consequences to the bird are likely to be repeated. Try to build your bird’s list of positive reinforcers. The more we have to offer and work with the better, especially when the environment changes. That list could include pine nuts, almonds, grapes, snap peas, the tone of your voice, the length of time spent on a person, a head scratch, the amount of time playing a game or the amount or size of a reinforcer. VALUABLE BEHAVIORS ARE MORE LIKELY TO BE REPEATED Behaviors that hold value to the bird will be repeated. These actions may or may not be desired by us. If the response is valuable to the bird, it’ll likely happen


again, such as biting the intruding hand of a visitor. If the bite causes the visitor to withdraw their hand, the behavior of biting serves a purpose for the bird. The longer the undesired behavior is reinforced, the stronger it becomes. The stronger it becomes, the more it is being trained, and the more time it takes for us to change it. The importance here is to begin the behavior change plan as soon as possible. The more extended period of time a bird has not received a positive reinforcer, the higher value that reinforcer becomes. If our bird spends hours on or with us and clearly enjoys the interaction with us, why would it want to step off of us to go back into its cage? It has received hours of positive reinforcers while being on or with us. If we withhold that interaction for a period of time before wanting our bird to go into its cage and deliver that attention once it does, the more likely the future behavior of stepping into its cage increases in the future. The misuse of reinforcers is the primary reason undesired behaviors exist. This is not uncommon. Unwanted actions are all around us, and they all happen because they serve a purpose for the individual. For example, birds scream because it

is knowingly or unknowingly reinforced. Identify the reinforcer for the scream. When does it happen and when doesn’t it? If a bird doesn’t scream when we are in the same room, but it begins when we leave, the reinforcer is likely the sight of us or some form of attention from us. In this instance, if we come back into the room to escape the sound of the screaming, we are likely reinforcing the scream. The bird quickly learns that this vocalization serves a purpose. We have positively reinforced the behavior of the bird screaming by delivering something of high value when it does. When we correctly identify the reinforcers behind behaviors, we can make desired behaviors more clearly communicated. We can then begin changing undesired behaviors such as biting the hand and screaming. To change an undesired behavior, we need to replace it with another behavior. Ask yourself “What response would you like the bird to do instead?” When we identify an alternate action we’d like to see, we can then begin taking steps to reinforce the replacement behavior positively. Does the bird bite a dowel when the visitor places it inside the cage? If not, there may be your replacement behavior; i.e., have your bird step onto the

dowel instead of your hand. Do you want to see this desired behavior maintain or increase? If so, reinforce it. Begin positively strengthening the action of the bird walking towards the dowel and stepping on the dowel when taking it from its cage using treats or praise. For the attention-screaming parrot, say the bird doesn’t scream when you are 20 feet from the cage, but it does at 25 feet. Begin your behavior change plan by positively reinforcing any other desired behavior other than screaming at the distance of 23 feet, then 24 feet, then 25 feet. This is a training procedure known as shaping, meaning reinforcing small approximations toward the desired behavior. We’ll dive deeper into the topic of shaping in an upcoming article. When we know better, we do better. Let’s do better! • Lara Joseph is the owner of The Animal Behavior Center and founder of The Parrot Project: online learning, and live-streaming for companion parrots. Her work focuses on teaching people how to work with animals using positive reinforcement and approaches in Applied Behavior Analysis. She travels internationally lecturing and giving workshops. For more information visit her website at JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 97


Yesterday & Today

One veterinarian’s look at her career in avian medicine and all the changes that came with it. By Margaret A. Wissman, DVM


graduated from vet school in 1981, but I have had a lifelong fascination with birds. My grandma bought me a pretty little blue budgie when I was six years old. Pixie was flighted and his favorite perch was the top of my platinum blonde head. He had a 20-word vocabulary and I was hooked at “hello.” However, my grandmother from Scotland felt he needed some “fresh air” and put his cage on our back porch. When a stiff breeze knocked his cage over, he panicked and flew away, never to be seen again. We gave him the standard parakeet seed and water and thought we were doing everything to maintain a healthy parakeet. Oh, how times have changed! HOW IT ALL BEGAN As one of two out-of-staters accepted to the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana), I was so fortunate to be among the first groups of aspiring veterinarians whom Dr. Ted Lafeber Sr. from Chicago traveled to teach us about proper parakeet (budgerigar) handling and nutrition. A classmate a year ahead of us had a pet cockatiel, almost unknown to most vets at this time, and he gave us a lecture on hand-rearing baby birds and about these mysterious birds from Australia. In vet school, I took every avian course I could and also volunteered to work with wild native birds, such as owls, hawks and even ducks (yes, mallards are natives.) I loved being involved with a new facet of veterinary medicine. When I graduated, I left my life in Connecticut to work with an avian vet in Florida. He was the vet who introduced me to the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), asking me to attend the 1982 conference with him. Thanks to Dr. Lee Duke for that vocational inspiration. I was dazzled and amazed by the

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interest and knowledge my colleagues shared with us, both in the lectures and during social hours. From there, I knew that I wanted to become an avian veterinarian. I was so fortunate to work with many aviculturists, including some American Federation of Aviculture First Breeding Award winners for some extremely rare and endangered parrots, but also some genuinely caring breeders and pet owners, who only wanted the best for their birds. I was blessed to accept a job with another U of I graduate from 1980, Dr. Michael Mitchel. He gave me free rein to pursue my professional interest in

birds and also other exotic species. HOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED Looking back, I began writing for Bird Talk in the late 1980s. So many things have changed in avian medicine since then, but on the other hand, many things remain the same. Proper, compassionate, gentle handling of birds remains something that every avian vet should know. Grooming birds has evolved, and I had a major hand in standardizing the way that bird primary feathers should be trimmed to provide a safe and injury-free method

How My Career Has Evolved When I first started treating birds, I almost dealt exclusively with parrots but in recent years, I find myself examining and treating many flocks of chickens, ducks, pigeons canaries and finches as well. Avian medicine has expanded to cover just about every kind of bird, including ostriches, emus and rheas. The government has a say in what we can use to treat any birds (or their eggs) destined for human consumption. I was in the second group to become board certified in avian medicine by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. I have served on the Board of Directors of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) and I received the President’s Award as the founder of the AAV Sponsorship Program for Avian Research in 1998. I was able to share my knowledge by lecturing, writing book chapters, and helping out local and national bird clubs. Now, I am happily working for ANTECH Diagnostic Labs as one of their exotic animal consultants. My job is to consult with avian vets around the world, assisting them with common procedures, interpretation of lab work and providing them with whatever information necessary. It is a challenging job and it keeps me on the cutting edge. Looking back on the progression of avian veterinary medicine, so much has changed yet so much remains the same.


of preventing flight, assisting in developing a wing-trim chart that is still provided by AAV. Other procedures that should be mastered by any veterinarians working on birds should include a complete physical examination, auscultation of the heart, lungs and air sacs, palpation of the coelom (body cavity), and learning the different kinds of birds and their normals. For example, cape parrots have a longer, pointed upper beak (called the rhinotheca), and many macaws may have an overgrowth of the cutting surface of the gnathotheca, resulting in it breaking off, which can result in abnormal growth of the beak. Some birds, including Eclectus and Amazons, may have an overgrowth of the rhinotheca, resulting in thickening and flaking. Avian vets should know what is normal in order to correctly trim and shape the beak. The uropygial gland, the only sebaceous gland found in parrots (except for Amazons, Pionus and the purple macaws) should always be examined and evaluated, especially in any birds that are feather-picking or have feather abnormalities, or problems with calcium metabolism (especially African greys), as this gland is also important in preventing low calcium seizures in African parrots. Drawing blood, called venipuncture, is also an important skill for avian vets. This hasn’t changed much over the years, but I still feel that an avian veterinarian should be able to draw blood from the jugular, medial metatarsal

vein, or sometimes from the wing vein. When I was in vet school, radiographs (X-rays) needed to be developed using toxic chemicals and requiring at least 20 minutes of time, and ultrasound was in its infancy. Now, radiographs are usually taken using digital systems, which radically cuts down on exposure to X-rays, and provides excellent detail unparalleled in my early days, available for review seconds after being taken. Now, we have incredible diagnostic skills at our fingertips, including digital radiography, ultrasound, CT scans and MRI scans. The labs offering services for birds can perform complete blood counts and extensive chemistries with easily drawn amounts of blood from our smallest avian patients. HOW BIRD TECH EVOLVED When I first started out, the only way to determine the sex of monomorphic birds was to anesthetize them and then insert a small surgical telescope to view a testicle or ovary. Now, with a single drop of blood, labs can provide the sex of birds very accurately. Some birds, with the Eclectus parrots being an extreme example, are sexually dimorphic, with the hens are primarily red and purple, while males are bright green. We still use endoscopy today but primarily for diagnostic purposes. The Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992 was enacted to prevent the mass capture of wild-caught birds destined for

the pet trade in the United States, and to encourage wild bird conservation in the country of origin, to prevent the decimation of wild bird populations. This changed the focus for most avian vets, to learn about breeding birds in the United States and also to learn pediatric medicine, instead of dealing with wild-caught adult birds. Today, we also have a huge variety of different tests utilizing DNA PCR technology. This means that with one drop of blood or another sample from a bird, we can diagnose specific bacterial infections, such as Chlamydophila, also known as psittacosis or parrot fever, viral diseases, including avian circovirus (psittacine beak and feather disease), which has been almost eradicated from responsible aviaries, and polyomavirus, to name a few. Surgery for birds can be easily accomplished, using accurate surgical techniques, often utilizing a radiosurgical unit, which minimizes bleeding and tissue damage. This technology has been around for many years; however, in recent years, lasers are being employed, which minimizes tissue damage even more and also just about eliminates bleeding. • Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, has practiced avian and exotic animal medicine for more than 30 years. She is also the avian and exotics consultant for ANTECH Diagnostics in Sacramento, Calif. She and her husband, Bill Parsons, have raised many species of parrots. Visit her website at JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 99


Small Parrots, Then & Now

A look back at what’s changed with small parrot keeping over the years. By Diane Grindol


understand that many of you readers keep small birds. Yay! I am a big fan of keeping some of the smaller companion birds as pets, and in the coming months, we will explore how they fit into your life and home. It is good to be back. I wrote a column about small birds for the former Bird Talk magazine that folded in 2012. That left a void in my life and a concern for the information available to new bird owners. I happened upon Bird Talk when I was a new cockatiel owner in the 80s. I looked at the library and pet stores for books on how to care for my new pet bird. They were written by people who kept their birds in aviaries, and often in Australia, where cuttlebone apparently washed up on the beach. I was at a loss until a friend showed me a copy of Bird Talk and I quickly became a subscriber. Here were the articles I needed for keeping a pet bird in my home. It wasn’t long before I visited bird clubs and signed up for seminars listed in the magazine. Over time I submitted articles and eventually wrote a column for Bird Talk. Here we are again, full circle.

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HOW KEEPING PARROTS HAS EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS It has always been fun to talk birds. We now exchange bird stories on the internet and via messages in real time. You can quickly meet people who don’t think you are silly for loving your pet bird. That was one of the perks of getting together in bird clubs for me. Everyone carried a photo of their pet bird(s) in their wallet. Now that photo is on your cell phone. And mine. I can snap a photo of one of my birds and share it with a friend at any time. I can get a photo back of their birds in a matter of minutes. We can bond over birds quite fast and no one at work wonders if I am crazy. There have been lots of positive changes for pet birds in the last couple of decades. There is more organic produce available and more interest in growing your own vegetables for your birds. There is an assortment of toys available for small birds at many bird stores and at some pet stores. There are trained avian veterinarians who know

about bird health. There are prepared bird diets available. It is more commonly known what plants and toxins are poisonous to birds. New bird owners have always had to be warned about the dangers of overheating nonstick cookware, but the production of it was recently phased out. Over time, that will not be a concern. HOW SMALL PARROTS HAVE CHANGED OVER THE YEARS Color! So many more small birds come in a variety of colors. Budgies, domesticated since the 1850s, now have a rainbow of color mutations. Some of the rarer cockatiel and lovebird mutations are now common, and parrotlets can be found in many mutation colors. It is a delight to the eye. Bird care information is available online and in recently-published books and e-books and blogs and posts and tweets (the Twitter kind, of course). More animal shelters also house and adopt out companion birds than in the past, and bird rescues and sanctuaries exist. You


still have to sort through all the information available, consider the source and consider your own lifestyle before applying the information you find. In general, pets are considered more a part of the family than they have been in the past. Your small bird is not just any animal, but a companion on your life’s journey. My cockatiel Dacey was with me through marriage, divorce, three jobs and five homes. No one else was a constant in my life through all that. Until you have a pet bird, it is hard to understand how close you can get to one, how interactive and fun a pet bird can be. Dacey and many of my cockatiels have recognized the sound of my car and welcomed me home. When I come home after dark, they often wake up enough to give me a little chirp of recognition, even though they should be sleeping. Long before it was a common vegetable, I was buying kale to feed to my birds. Though I never developed a taste for it, having birds has kept me interested in trying vegetables and preparing them in different ways that keep both me and my birds healthy.

This is the era of the tiny house. Our small birds are just right for that trend. Together we will be exploring the bond between you and your birds and keeping a bird happy in your home. I look forward to being on this journey with you. Congratulations on loving your small bird and on finding Bird Talk to guide you through the joy of bird care. • Diane Grindol got a pet cockatiel in 1982, and that changed her life. After submitting an article about her cockatiels to the American Cockatiel Society, she wrote a pet column for them for six years. Diane wrote both feature articles and/or a column for Bird Talk magazine from 1988 to 2012. She is the author of “Cockatiels For Dummies®” and “The Complete Book of Cockatiels” and a co-author of “Birds Off The Perch,” “Teaching Your Bird to Talk” and “Parrot Tricks.” Diane is a full-time pet sitter and part-time artist and art teacher in Monterey, Calif. She shares her life with three cockatiels and a blue-headed Pionus parrot.

What Are Small Birds? Budgies, cockatiels, lovebirds and parrotlets are parrots. Bonding with one of them, or any of the other small parrots, involves all that keeping a larger parrot entails. They pack a lot of bird into their small bodies. Small parrots can be loving and engaging, and they can be opinionated or naughty. I have always felt my cockatiels had the attributes people are really looking for when they acquire a larger parrot. Not only that, but they fit into our apartments, rented rooms and small living spaces. A budgie made it into the “Guinness Book of Records” as the bird to speak the most words. Profound and hysterical antics by our small birds keep us entertained and appreciating them.

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Meet the Zebra Finch

This popular little bird is great for both beginners and experts alike. By Jessica Pineda


re you interested in birds, but not in any of the parrot species? Then a group of finches might in your future! And there are no better birds to start out with then the adorable zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). These little birds are native to Australia and are one of the most commonly kept finch species around the world. What makes these finches so great? They are the perfect birds for both beginners and longtime bird keepers, according to Garrie Landry, owner of Acadiana Aviaries (, in Franklin, La., and author of “An Almost Complete Guide to: The Varieties and Genetics of the Zebra Finch.” “They are completely hardy finches, easy to keep, and not prone to many of the often stress-related problems that plague more exotic species,” he said. “They are the perfect candidates for a first time finch keeper. Sexes are easy to determine by color alone, and they are relatively inexpensive from a pet shop perspective. Plus, they come in a variety of different subtle shades of grey and brown, and even solid white zebra finches are available.” Landry loves this species so much that he’s been working with them for more than 50 years. “I started when I was in high school,” he said. “It did not take me long to develop a serious attraction to the zebra finch. My interest in genetics only added to their appeal, because there were so many color varieties available then and there are even more available today. I could never have imagined that my interest in this little bird would become a lifelong endeavor.” 102 • B IR D TA LK • JUNE/JULY 2018

WHAT ARE ZEBRA FINCHES LIKE? Not only are they great birds, they are also easy to care for, too. The only caveat with these species is that you must have at least two of these birds in one cage. Like many bird species, they are flock animals, but unlike parrots, they don’t substitute us as a member of the flock. Fortunately, zebra finches are small and

one cage usually has more than enough room for two birds. While one pair generally gets along with each other, more than one pair in a cage can cause problems. “Zebras are territorial, and as such pairs will establish a territory in even the smallest cage and attempt to keep all others out of their claimed space,” Landry said. “If there's too little space they will pick and harass each other to the point of

Zebra Finches: Great as Pets and More Not only do they make good pets, zebra finches are often attractive to those that breed and show the species, too. “There are scores of people all across the planet who are totally devoted to the breeding of quality exhibition zebra finches,” said Garrie Landry, owner of Acadiana Aviaries (, in Franklin, La., and author of “An Almost Complete Guide to: The Varieties and Genetics of the Zebra Finch.” “Zebra finch organizations exist in Australia, the U.K. and many European countries specifically to promote the breeding of these show quality birds,” Landry said. “Such exhibitions in Europe often have hundreds of birds in show cages competing for best in show status.” Part of these reason for this is because zebra finches come in many different colors, known as mutations. The color mutations are often variations of these finches’ main colors, from solid white to a bird that has no white underbelly, only to black. According to, the colors include: · Gray · Black cheek · Lightback · Orange breast · Chestnut flanked white

· Black face · Fawn · Black breast · Pied · Fawn/gray cheek

plucking feathers and making life miserable for other cage inhabitants.” For that reason, house zebra finches in a cage large enough to keep everyone happy. (See “How to House Zebra Finches” for more information). Due to them being so territorial, it’s not recommended to house zebra finches with other finch species either.


ZEBRA FINCHES ARE EASY TO TELL APART Unlike with many parrot species, zebra finches are dimorphic, meaning you can tell males and females apart. The normal male zebra finch is mostly gray, with a white underbelly, and an orange beak and cheeks. They often sport a little black on their chests and have brown speckled feathers alongside their wings. Top that off with a tail that is black with white bars, and you have one gorgeous bird. Females are much less colorful than their male counterparts, mostly being solid gray with no bright orange cheeks. HOW TO FEED ZEBRA FINCHES Are you ready to bring a pair of zebra finches home? Do you know what to feed them? According to Landry, the best diet is a high-quality finch seed mixture, along with other foods.

“They are particularly fond of various types of millet seeds: white proso, small yellow and red millets,” he said. “They are perhaps least fond of canary seed. Zebra finches, like all other birds, always enjoy millet sprays, which they consume quickly. Such seeds should be given only as a treat and not every day.” Other experts recommend providing finch-sized pellets for these birds, though it may be hard to get zebra finches to eat them. Along with a proper finch food, round out your birds’ diet with fresh greens and some fruits. (Check out our summer fruit and vegetable guide on page 36 for some ideas.) You’ll want to break down these fruits and vegetables so they are small and easy for your finches to eat. Along with that, place a cuttlebone in your birds’ cage. These chalk-like bones come from cuttlefish, and are a great source of calcium for birds. If you plan to breed your zebra finches at some point, they’ll need an extra boost in their diet in the form of “nesting food,” Landry explained. “Often called ‘egg food,’ many brands are available on the open market,” he said. “Most are dry-based foods that can be served as is or moistened with a small amount of water to encourage birds to eat it. Dry is fine, no need to add water in my opinion,” he said. Continued page 115.

Male and female zebra finches are easy to tell apart. For the normal colored zebra finches, the males have bright orange cheek patches, while the females have none.

“’ll easily fall in love with their antics, the little chirps and beeping sounds they make and watching them live their lives.”

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Meet the Lorikeets

These unique birds make great companions By Terry A. Barber


ird Talk is back and lories and lorikeets have their own little corner! I was given a greennaped lory (Trichoglossus haematodus) more 20 years ago. He was so pretty; a rainbow of colors on one very spunky little bird. I was instantly in love and it opened my eyes to a whole range of species in the lorikeet family. I acquired a pair of blue-streaked lories (Eos reticulata) a few years later. My love of keeping lories is still going strong. I now have 20 lories of different species, and I think of them as flying flowers, each with gorgeous colors in amazing combinations. Each one is more interesting than the next to me. I haven’t met a lory that I didn’t admire. WHERE ARE LORIKEETS FROM? Some scientists suggest New Guinea as the origin of lorikeets, with many species spreading out to Australia and other islands of Indonesia. In areas with islands, birds may fly or be carried to different islands, which allows them to form an isolated population that changes over time, eventually developing into a new species. Lories and lorikeets most likely diverged in this way to become the 53 species that we now know.

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Lories have shorter rounded tails while lorikeets have longer tail feathers. They range in size from six inches to 15 inches long and are found in Australia, the islands of Indonesia and New Guinea. Lory species may be found on only one or two islands while others may be found throughout the entire region.

Along with the liquid diet comes a very liquid dropping. Lories are excellent little squirters. Their liquid droppings require some creative caging and handling. Lory lovers usually find a way to deal with their frequent but small droppings.


The very best part of lories and lorikeets as pets is their perky positive behavior. They truly seem to love people. You can find a large number of videos on the internet showcasing the silly behaviors of lories. Lories and lorikeets are easy to train too using positive behavior techniques and rewards of fruit or sweet nectar. They enjoy cuddling and pets from their favorite people. They love to play with toys and rolling around. The playful nature of lories has made them very popular for walk-in exhibits where people can interact and feed the birds that fly freely in the exhibits. Pet lories live for 20 years or more when receiving proper care and nutrition. Some species become sexually mature as early as 8 months. How should you choose a lory or lorikeet for a bird companion? First is to think carefully about their dietary needs and wet droppings. If this seems too

Lorikeets feed on nectar, fruits and pollen in the wild. They have a digestive system that is quite different from other parrot species since they eat a primarily nectar diet. They also have a tongue that is excellent for gathering pollen. The tip of the tongue is covered with papillae, which looks like a brush at the end of the tongue. The best diet for lorikeets is often debated, though the good news is that there are several good diets available commercially for lorikeet pets. The goal of a good lory diet is to approximate what they may be eating in the wild. A liquid diet is best for them, since they consume flower nectar in the wild. They also eat flower pollen, bits of fruits, vegetable matter and even a few insects. Therefore, a pet lorikeet’s diet should be supplemented with fresh fruits and a few veggies.



messy, lories are probably not for you. I personally would rather clean up after a lory than a large macaw or cockatoo, but we all have our limits. You should choose a hand-reared youngster as a pet. They will already be socialized to people and being handled. I don’t recommend hand-rearing a baby parrot yourself. It is a demanding task and requires skill and patience. There are many people who breed and raise lories and lorikeets for the pet trade who can help you choose a new pet. THE BEST LORY/LORIKEET PETS Many species of lory make nice pets but some are rare or may have temperaments that are less pet worthy. My favorite pet

species include the Swainson’s blue mountain lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus moluccanus), which are popular with walk-in bird exhibits. Red lories (Eos bornea) also make nice pets, and are covered in gorgeous red feathers. One of my favorites is the Duyvenbode’s lory (Chalcopsitta duivenbodei), also called the brown lory. It is a gorgeous bronze with yellow-and purple-coloring, and full of personality. Duyvenbode’s are harder to find and on the more expensive side. Getting a pet bird is a big commitment for anyone considering a pet bird. Parrots are longlived and many have very specific requirements for a healthy and happy life. If you decide that any of the lory species might be a good fit, I also

recommend connecting with other lory pet owners and breeders. They are your best resource for information and comradery. Web groups can be found on most social media sites, such as Facebook. Social media opens up the world to lory keepers, and there’s nothing better than being able to talk to the Australians about their pet lorikeets. The more you know the easier it is to understand and care for your pet. Feel free to contact me via Facebook. I would love to hear suggestions and ideas for upcoming articles. • Terry A. Barber is the author of several gardening books including "The Simple Guide to Garden Ponds." She is also the owner of JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 105


Parrot Rescue & Adoption in the United States

What do we know? What don't we know? By Marguerite Floyd


’ve long been interested in what’s going on with rescues and adoption. As a parrot behavior consultant, I am routinely asked for names of good organizations by people who need to rehome their bird and sincerely want the best place. Yet this is a hard question to answer. There are no centralized collection of facts about rescue and adoption organizations in the United States. What makes a good rescue/adoption organization for parrots? How many agencies are out there? How do they stay in business? Lucky for all of us, the new Bird Talk is interested in the same things and asked me to explore and do some fact finding of my own. One thing we are sure of is that things are changing. Every week I see mention on Facebook of a new parrot rescue/ adoption organization added to the growing list of rescue/adoption agencies already in operation. There seem to be more and more parrot rescue/adoption organizations out there, too, beyond even my Facebook pages.

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THE STATE OF PARROT RESCUES I discussed the state of parrot rescues in the U.S. with several adoption organizations. They included: Burge Bird Rescue in Grandview, Miss.; Iowa Parrot Rescue in Letts, Iowa; Parrot Education & Adoption Center (PEAC) in San Diego; Parrot Education, Adoption and Rehoming League (PEARL) in Pittsburgh; Phoenix Landing in Arlington, Va.; and Rhode Island Parrot Rescue in Warwick, R.I. All these U.S.-based rescues had several things in common: • They all emphasize the importance of owner and public education. • They all seem to be growing, either in the number of parrots or physical space or both. • They are all cautiously optimistic about the future. Despite their optimism, the head of these organizations admit there were real problems with the parrot rescue and adoption world. “The future for parrot rescues in

the U.S. is overwhelming to think about, to say the least,” said Valerie Ashley, director of the Rhode Island Parrot Rescue. “More and more rescues are becoming overcrowded.” Mike Hutchinson, director of the Iowa Parrot Rescue, agreed. His solution? “I think that more rescues, more widely spread, has to happen,” he said. “The system of a few big ones just doesn’t work.” Which brings up more issues: Just how many rescues do we need? What kind? Based on people populations or bird populations? Determined by species or geography? Each organization evidently sets its own standards and guidelines for acceptance, adoption and care of parrots. Hutchison was the only one who mentioned universal guidelines. “We badly need useful and enforceable standards to regulate shelters, and a way for people to know which ones are decent,” he said. The majority of agencies I talked with agreed that social media has greatly raised awareness of the need for parrot rehoming and the existence of

adoption organizations. Some mentioned that better communications between organizations would be helpful, as well. “Without question, there will always be many birds needing homes,” said Ann Brooks, founder of Phoenix Landing. “So it’s imperative that we find a way to succeed together.” I can see I’ve got my work cut out for me in the coming issues.


WHAT WE DON’T KNOW How many organizations are there? We don’t really know how many parrot rescues/adoption agencies there are in the U.S. Maybe somewhere between 100 and 1,000. Or 2,000. Or more. Or fewer. Why do people start parrot rescues/ adoption organizations? For many, it began as casually as taking in a bird from a friend they could no longer keep for a variety of reasons. Then another friend with another bird, and so on. Care and costs become issues, and soon that caring person has to ask for help from friends, find room for more cages, ask for donations, struggle to pay veterinary fees, file

for a 501(c)3 from the IRS and begin marketing adoption opportunities. Most of these organizations begin full of hope and determination that they’re doing the right thing and really making a difference. They may not yet have learned to navigate the waters of law, logistics, fundraising and taxes, but they are sure that since their hearts are in the right place they’ll succeed. Some of the smaller organizations only accept birds from their geographical area; other larger organizations accept birds from anywhere. The larger, more established rescues/adoption organizations offer and even require education for prospective adopters. Not everyone can do it. Many small rescues close down soon after opening. The “extra” birds often go to other organizations that may or may not be as able to help. At least I think so. This is completely unexplored territory for all of us. • Marguerite Floyd is a certified parrot behavior consultant with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), and author of four books.

Terminology Changes The terminology rescue and adoption organizations use is beginning to change. Phoenix Landing, a parrot adoption organization in Arlington, Va., has, according to their website, “decided to use the word ‘rescue’ very rarely, because this word implies problems or dysfunction, making it harder for a bird to find that necessary next home. Probably several. So adoption needs to be considered a positive option.” For more, check out their blog here: http://bit. ly/2GbPwak

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Meet International Aviculturist Tony Silva

This world-renowned expert has spent decades helping shape aviculture as we know it. By Linda S. Rubin


orld renown avicultural expert, Tony Silva, agreed to sit down with Bird Talk to share just a glimpse of his journey through aviculture. Tony is remarkably humble in light of his highly respected expertise and is always willing to help seasoned aviculturists and breeders new to the hobby, all eager to gain from his decades of experience. It is a pleasure to talk with Tony Silva as the first esteemed aviculturist to be interviewed for this column so that readers can learn of his work.

pairs of the rare blue-eyed cockatoo in July 2017 and by November, we had our first chick. It was clear when receiving them that the pairs were not focused on each other. We provided green coconuts so the parrots would work together as a pair by shredding them. They developed strong pair bonds and went to nest. We have four chicks at the present time.

LR: Tony, how and when did you start

Parque in the Canary Islands from 1989 to 1992. I bred fig parrots, lories, very

out in aviculture?

TS: I started in aviculture as a kid. At first, it was canaries, then budgerigars and a female mustached parakeet that I bought for $50 from a tropical fish wholesaler that got me hooked. My parents encouraged the hobby, feeling that it was better that I stay focused than get into trouble. By 18 years of age, I had already achieved my first breeding with the slender-billed conure.” LR: Can you describe what works best for you when enticing pairs to breed? TS: Ramon Noegel, the authority on Amazon parrot breeding in the United States, told me something that at the time sounded crazy. Ramon was a spiritual medium and clearly not part of the mainstream. What he told me in September 1979 was, “listen to your birds, they will talk to you.” I laughed at the comment. Today, I realize that parrots communicate by action rather than words, and this is what has led me to have so much success. As an example, we obtained two 108 • B IR D TALK • JUNE/JULY 2018

LR: Where have you worked in avicul-

ture, and what are some of the species you have bred at your facility?

TS: I was the curator of birds at Loro

they thrived on a diet of steamed vegetables, some fruit, instant oatmeal sprinkled over the fruits and vegetables and sprouts. Senegal parrots are very reliable once you understand that they prefer a narrow, very deep nest and do not see or hear others of their kind.” LR: Can you briefly tell us about the new species of Amazona that you helped to identify? TS: Miguel Angel Gomez Garza is the

leading expert on the parrots of Mexico. He brought to my attention a potentially new species some years ago. The task of beginning phylogenetic

“Aviculture is not dying. It is flourishing on a scale I had never imagined. It has just evolved.” rare Pionus and Amazons, and countless other species that today have vanished from aviculture. I also bred the Spix’s macaw in Loro Parque and was a lead figure in establishing the program that ultimately saved the species. LR: Which species have you found to be

the most challenging to work with and which would you say is more reliable?

TS: Racket-tailed parrots were a challenge because they would stiffen and die. Don Wells [another U.S.-based aviculturist] and I found out independently that they could not have solid foods such as hard seeds fed to other parrots (pellets were unknown at the time), because these would cause ulcers. Instead,

work was begun in order to confirm that it was indeed a valid species. Museums were visited, the living birds were measured and their call was recorded. Drs. Adam Urantowka, Antonio Guman and Pawel Mackiewicz worked on the description with me. The collaborative effort involved three countries and led to the new species being named, the blue-winged Amazon, Amazona gomezgarzai. LR: Tony, which books have you authored? What are some of the magazines and journals where you are published? TS: I have authored seven books but Psittaculture is the most widely read. I have seen counterfeit copies in Chinese

TONY SILVA with a rare Pesquet's parrot. The Pesquet's parrot (Psittrichas fulgidus) is the only member of its genus and of the subfamily Psittrichadinae. It is also known as the vulturine parrot (which is different from the Pyrilia vulturina, also known as the vulturine parrot) and lives in the hill and montane rainforest of New Guinea.

and Serbian. The new edition will be out this year and I am sure will have a greater impact. It compiles the advances made in the 25 years since the first edition appeared in print. By the way, your contributions to aviculture are highlighted in the pages. I have had articles published in more than 30 languages. I recently received magazines containing my articles in Russian, Malayalam (the language of Kerala), Spanish, Czech and English. LR: If you had to name just one, what

was the best experience you’ve had in aviculture?

TS: Going to India. When I was invited to lecture there, I went with an open mind. What I found was an extreme passion, a huge appetite for learning and some truly great achievements. The Indians were working quietly on their own. I was the first American aviculturist to lecture there and I consider this a great honor. I have shared a lot of knowledge with the Indians, but I have also learned a lot from them. This is what is so fascinating about aviculture: you can amass new knowledge daily. LR: Which countries have invited you to present a speaker paper? What made the greatest impression on you in your travels?


TS: Last year I lectured in South Africa,

India, Spain and Russia. I have lectured on all continents. We have been led to believe that aviculture is dying and that young people are not entering the hobby. Aviculture is not dying. It is flourishing on a scale I had never imagined. It has just evolved.

In Europe, bird breeders always sold their young to other breeders; they ignored the pet market. Today, that pet market is massive and growing. Throughout Asia, I have seen that the average aviculturist is in his mid-20s. These new aviculturists have an appetite to learn that is insatiable. I have seen the same in the Middle East and Latin America, where aviculture is starting to boom. We, in the U.S., must realize that aviculture is now a worldwide phenomenon and that we must connect with these people to allow the flow of information to accelerate and to continue to attract new hobbyists. LR: In your opinion Tony, what are the major problems confronting aviculture today? TS: The pet bird hobby is massive, but breeders must produce birds that are better adapted for the home and the new buyer must learn what they will get into when they acquire a pet bird. I know of stores that now have a mandatory class on bird ownership before a person can buy a bird. Many breeders require potential owners to visit and become part of the rearing process of their future pet bird. Fewer babies are having their wings clipped at an early age. And free flying is becoming an international sport. Free flyers have realized that parrots are quite cold tolerant and that they can fly their bird even in a cold northern climate during pleasant winter days. These are all very positive steps. Birds that are mentally stable become better pets and will be less prone to ending up unwanted. We must also forgo the mentality that aviculture is dying. It is not. There are several large bird farms near my home and if you

talk to the owners they will tell you the same. The animal rights groups (not to be confused with animal welfare), have been successful in getting us to believe that bird keeping is a dying hobby and this perception must be rejected. As an example, the average article that I post on my Facebook page receives 50,000 reads. A dying hobby would not attract this type of interest. LR: And finally, Tony, what are your fu-

ture goals?

TS: I would like to focus on housing

and diet in China and the Middle East, where there is a growing interest. These people must understand that a good diet is far more than a bowl of sunflower seed, that chaining a parrot is absolutely wrong, and that a parrot needs exercise and [must not be] kept in a tiny cage. We can either attack these people for what we find wrong, or we can educate them. From my experience, challenging them will only work to ingrain these wrongs. Instead, we must teach them the right way. • Linda S. Rubin is an international writer, speaker and show judge with more than 40 years experience breeding parrots, cockatiels and budgerigars. She is the author of Ultimate Parrot Guide, Multiple Bird Households (both TFH Publications) and Cockatiel Genetics Made Easy at

Learn more Follow Tony Silva on Facebook at TonySilvaAviculture.

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Top 3 Things You Need to Know About Keeping Chickens

Providing veterinary care, proper nutrition and access to sunlight are all things crucial to keeping chickens happy and healthy. By Jessica Pineda


hinking about bringing home some chickens? You aren’t alone: Keeping chickens in the backyard has been a trend for several years now. In fact, nearly 1 percent of U.S. households keep chickens, according to the LA Times. That number that is expected to grow by 400 percent by 2019 too. While people keep backyard chickens for a number of reasons, mostly for eggs, a 2014 study in Poultry Science found 57 percent of chickens are kept as pets. They make great companions too; those who have chickens love their personalities, their beautiful colors and the fact that they’re so low maintenance. The fact that they provide free eggs ends up just being a perk. HEALTHY CHICKENS ARE CRUCIAL As with any pet, how to keep chickens healthy is something any new owner is concerned about. Chickens have different health requirements than other pet birds, and they also must be kept healthy, if you plan to eat their eggs. Good health is important to keep the public safe as well; as the magazine American Veterinarian writes on their website, “Backyard flocks can be a public health hazard by harboring or spreading dangerous pathogens like Salmonella to naive caretakers or creating larger health hazards by establishing pockets of infectious disease that could affect the food supply.” So how do you keep you and your 110 • B IR D TALK • JUNE/JULY 2018

chickens safe and healthy? Here are three things you need to know: 1. THEY NEED VETERINARY CARE As Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian Practice), owner of the Veterinary Center for Birds & Exotics in Bedford Hills, N.Y. points out, you can’t just throw chickens in the backyard and hope for the best. Not only could the chickens suffer from that, if you eat their eggs, you are putting your health at risk too. “If you look at the poultry industry, those animals are carefully regulated so eggs are safe to eat,” Dr. Hess explained. “Most people don’t even have their chicken checked to see if they have parasites, which could be transferred to people through their eggs.” In fact, as Hess explains, parasite control is a big thing for chickens. “People need to rotate the land the chickens graze on, so the chickens don’t poop parasite eggs into the soil and then eat them when they hatch,” she said. “If you can’t move the land they’re on, every spring scoop up the top few inches of soil so it’s free of parasite dropping.” 2. CHICKENS REQUIRE DIFFERENT NUTRITION AT DIFFERENT AGES Chickens have three major life stages, and each stage has different nutritional requirements, Hess said. “When chickens are young, they are known as growers. When they are

sexually mature, and they are laying [eggs], they’re called ‘layers,’” she explained. “When they’re growing, they need a lot more protein in their diet. If they’re laying eggs, they need a lot more calcium because they’re making a lot of eggshells.” That means providing your chickens with a diet that has the proper nutrition needed for each of their life stages. Providing scratch or letting chickens forage in your backyard won’t be enough, either; chickens need a formulated pellet diet that is nutritionally complete for their age. So how do you know what life stage your chicken is at, and what diet they need? Young chickens need a diet that contains as much as 20 percent protein to ensure they grow healthy and hardy. Once they start reaching sexual maturity around 6 months of age, they then need to be switched to a diet that has around 16 to 18 percent protein. At this stage, they’ll need more calcium for egg laying, which must either be provided in the diet itself or supplemented using grit or oyster shells. Luckily, many commercial feeds are labeled to tell you what life stage of the chicken they are for. For chicks, look for feeds labeled “starter,” “chick” or “pullet.” For laying hens, look for feed that’s labeled for layers. Don’t be swayed by fancy ingredients in the feed. “Not all the pelleted diets are equal. Just because one is labeled ‘organic,’ doesn’t make it better,” Hess said. Like all birds, chickens need access to fresh, clean water, too. Their feed can be

supplement with scratch, vegetables and foraging for insects too. Check with your veterinarian about the best diet and supplements to provide your birds.


3. CHICKENS NEED LIGHT, WHETHER IT’S SUNLIGHT OR FULL-SPECTRUM LIGHT Chickens need a lot of calcium to lay eggs, and they need the ability to properly absorb said calcium in their bodies too. That means chickens needs vitamin D to help with that, and the easiest way to provide that is by natural or full-spectrum light. Like us, chickens make vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol, naturally in their bodies when they are exposed to the ultraviolet (UV) rays, specifically UVB rays. The most abundant source of UVB rays is sunlight and full-spectrum lights. For many people, ensuring their chickens get plenty of time in the sun is no problem. The problem is for people who might live in areas where it gets too cold to keep chickens outside for months at a time. Chickens kept indoors during the winter should have access to a full-spectrum light then, so they’re still continuing to make the vitamin D they need, Hess said. (Note: Glass filters out UVB, so even if your chickens are by the windows, they’re not getting what they need.) If they aren’t producing enough vitamin D, chickens can start to have a

Vaccinate Your Chickens for Marek’s Disease If you are looking to bring a flock of chickens home, they must be vaccinated for Marek’s disease. This disease is so contagious that Merck’s Veterinary Manual labels it as “one of the most ubiquitous avian infections.” In fact, it’s so ubiquitous, the manual writes, that “every flock, except for those maintained under strict pathogenfree conditions, is presumed to be infected.” So what is Marek’s disease? It’s a virus that can cause paralysis in chickens mainly but also can cause tumors to grow on the bird’s internal organs. The virus can also suppress a bird’s immune system, making them susceptible to other illnesses and diseases.

lot of reproductive problems. It can lead to chickens becoming egg bound, a sometimes fatal occurrence where an egg becomes stuck inside them and they have difficulty passing it. Some chickens might not have enough calcium in them to even from eggshells at all, and end up with yolk stuck inside

As mentioned before, this disease is highly contagious and can linger in a flock. It is transmitted from bird to bird through dust and dander they produce, and once one has it, every member of the flock can soon have it. If you keep other types of birds, such as turkeys and ducks, it can jump from chickens over to them. The easiest way to prevent this disease from infecting your flock is to ensure your chickens have been vaccinated. However, for the vaccine to be effective, it must be administered via the embryo, according to Merck Veterinary Manual. That means you should get chickens from reputable sources that can prove they vaccinated their eggs for this disease.

them too. Issues like that can easily be avoided with proper nutrition and veterinary care, of course. By providing those very things, your chickens will live long, healthy lives and provide you years of companionship. •

JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 111



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ern Parrots. Speakers for Masterclasses include Malcolm Green, Steve Brookes and Rosemary Low. Staines Rd E, Shepperton, Sunbury-on-Thames. £10. Contact: www. 16 EAST CANTON, OHIO Parrot 101. Lara Joseph will be speaking on behavior and enrichment. Brenda Shriff will be discussing nutritional needs along with a chop demo. 9 a.m. $40, reservations only. Meals included. The Bird Nerds Rescue, 4518 Lincoln St E. Contact: Connie Phillips; 330-617-3557;

JULY 6-8 BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA Parrot Society of Australia

Parrots 2018. The 10th international biennial convention, with a theme “Raising the Perch in Avicultural Education." Contact: 28 BURIEN, WA Northwest Animal & Natural Festival.

Burien Town Square Park. Speakers: Robin Shewokis; Karl Anderson. Contact: Debra George; 206-941-7199;

AUGUST 15-18 SAN ANTONIO, TX American Federation of Avi-

culture, 44th Annual Convention. Onmi Colonnade Hotel, 9821 Colonnade Blvd. Contact: 512-585-9800;;

SEPTEMBER 24-27 TENERIFE, SPAIN International Convention of

Parrots. Loro Parque, 38400 Puerto de la Cruz. Contact: +34 922 373 841 Ext. 281; congreso

NOVEMBER 8-10 ST. CHARLES, IL 70th National Bird Show. Pheas-

ant Run Resort; 4051 East Main St. Contact: 630-5846300;

EVENTS & SHOWS JUNE 2 ANTIOCH, CA Contra Costa County Exotic Bird &

Animal Expo. Contra Costa County Fairgrounds; 1201 W 10th St. $10; $5 for children 6-12. Contact: 10 ORLANDO FL Exotic Bird Events Inc. Central Florida

Fairgrounds, 4603 W Colonial Dr. 9-4. $5; 10 and under free. Contact: Debbie Tillman 386-383-4295;;

JULY 7 SANTA ROSA, CA Santa Rosa Exotic Bird & Animal Expo. Sonoma County Fair, 1350 Bennet Valley Rd. $10; $5 for kids 6-12. Contact:

22 PITTSBURGH, PA OHPA Bird Fairs. Garden City

Hall, 600 Garden City Dr. Contact: www.ohpabirdfair. com; 22 MONTEREY, CA Monterey Exotic Bird & Animal Expo. Monterey County Fair; 2004 Fairground Road. $10; $5 kids 6-12. Contact: 28 BURIEN, WA Northwest Animal & Natural Festival.

Burien Town Square Park. Speakers: Robin Shewokis; Karl Anderson. Contact: Debra George; 206-941-7199;

Send your event photos to Bird Talk and we’ll feature them in the Show Calendar! High-resolution photos that need to be at least 3 by 5 inches and 300 dpi. Send them to: subject line “Bird Event Photos”

6-12. Parking $5. Contact: 23 HAZEL PARK, MI Motor City Bird Breeders Bird Show. Contact:

OCTOBER 7 ORLANDO, FL Exotic Bird Events Inc. Central Flor-

ida Fairgrounds, 4603 W Colonial Dr. 9-4. $5; Under 10 free. Contact: Debbie Tillman 386-383-4295;;


13-14 AUBURN, WA Seattle Parrot Expo. Auburn Community and Events Center; 910 S. 9th SE.

5 AVONDALE, AZ Avondale Exotic Bird & Animal Expo. American Sports Center; 755 N. 114th Ave. $10; $5 for kids 6-12. Contact:

14 LAS VEGAS, NV Las Vegas Exotic Bird & Reptile

12 ORLANDO, FL Exotic Bird Events Inc. Central Flor-

Expo. Las Vegas Elks Lodge #1468; 4100 W Charleston Blvd. Contact:

ida Fairgrounds, 4603 W Colonial Dr. 9-4. $5; 10 and under free. Contact: Debbie Tillman, 386-383-4295;;

20 LANCASTER, CA Lancaster Exotic Bird & Animal Expo. Antelope Valley Fairgrounds; 2551 W. Avenue H. Contact:

18 MEDINA, OH OHPA Bird Fairs. 735 West Lafayette

21 ANAHEIM, CA Orange County Exotic Bird & Animal Expo. American Sports Center; 1500 S. Anaheim Blvd. $10; $5 for kids 6-12. Contact:

Rd. Contact:; OHPAbirdfair 18-19 TALLAHASSEE, FL Southeast Exotic Bird Fair. 441

E Paul Russell Rd. 9-4. $4; 16 and free. Contact: Victor Lin 813-431-8799;; 19 MODESTO, CA Central California Cage Bird Club

Fair. Stanislaus County Agricultural Center; 3800 Cornucopia Way #B. $3. Contact: Julie Faira; 209-648-3323; 25 BRIDGETON, MO Gateway Parrot Club Fair. 12365 St. Charles Rock Rd. 10-6. Contact: gatewayparrotclub. org

21 PITTSBURGH, PA OHPA Bird Fairs. Garden City Hall, 600 Garden City Dr. Contact: www.ohpabirdfair. com; 27 MODESTO, CA Central California Cage Bird Club.

65th Annual Bird Show; 12th Annual Bird Mart. Stanislaus County Agricultural Center; 3800 Cornucopia Way #B. 9-4. %5; 15 and under free. Contact: (Show) Darrell Brewer, 510-527-1788, (Bird mart) Julie Faria, 209-648-3323, mjfaria1722@yahoo. com;


Hall, 6340 126th Ave N. 9-3:30. $4; 12 and under free. Contact: Pedro Avila 813-361-3735;;

4 SACRAMENTO, CA Sacramento Exotic Bird & Animal Expo. VACOS Community Center; 6270 Elder Creek Rd. 10-4. $10; $5 for kids 6-12. Contact:

26 BAKERSFIELD, CA Bakersfield Exotic Bird & Animal

11 LARGO, FL Sun Coast Exotic Bird Fair. Minnreg Hall,

26 LARGO, FL Sun Coast Exotic Bird Fair. Minnreg

Expo. 1142 S. P St. $10; $5 for kids 6-12. Contact: www. 26 ROSEVILLE, CA Foothill Bird Fanciers Annual Exotic Bird Mart. Placer County Fair and Events Center; 800 All American City Blvd. 9-3. Contact: John, 916-4099276; Blue, 916-991-7421; Roland, 530-823-1677; www.

SEPTEMBER 15 SAN BERNARDINO, CA San Bernardino Exotic Bird

& Animal Expo. National Orange Show; 689 S. E St. $10; $5 for kids 6-12. Contact: 16 VENTURA, CA Ventura Exotic Bird & Animal Expo. Ventura County Fair, 10 W Harbor Blvd. $10; $5 for kids 6-12. Contact:

6340 126th Ave N. 9-3:30. $4; 12 and under free. Contact: Pedro Avila 813-361-3735;; 25 PLANT CITY, FL Ammerman's Exotic Yard Sale. 4902

Charlie Taylor Rd. 9-4. Contact: 813-752-2230;

DECEMBER 15 MERCED, CA Merced Exotic Bird & Animal Expo.

Merced County Fairgrounds; 900 Martin Luther King Jr Way. 10-3. $10; $5 for kids 6-12. Contact: exoticbirdmart. com 16 FREMONT, CA Fremont/San Jose Exotic Bird & Animal Expo. Elks Lodge Fremont, 38991 Farwell Dr. 10-4. $10; $5 for kids 6-12. Parking $5. Contact: www.

23 FREMONT, CA Fremont Exotic Bird & Animal Expo.

Elks Lodge Fremont, 38991 Farwell Dr. $10; $5 for kids

8 MERCED, CA Merced Exotic Bird & Animal Expo.

Merced County Fairgrounds; 900 Martin Luther King Jr Way. $10; $5 for kids 6-12. Contact: 15 PLANT CITY, FL Ammerman's Exotic Yard Sale, 4902

Charlie Taylor Rd. 9-4. Contact: 813-752-2230; 114 • B IR D TALK • JUNE/JULY 2018

Bird Talk provides this information as a free service and does not endorse any event. Bird Talk tries to include all timely submissions completely and accurately, but cannot guarantee them due to time and personnel limitations. To confirm receipt, contact 916-264-9782. Provide information in writing no later than five months prior the event (for instance, an event that takes place May 1 must be submitted no later than January 1). MAIL TO Bird Talk, 10824 Olson Dr, Ste C, #380, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670 E-MAIL, subject line “Show Calendar.”

FAX 916-660-5996

Don’t Get Overwhelmed by Babies As breeding birds, it won’t take long for zebra finches to start having babies. For some people, that’s good; for others, it might quickly become a headache. “Perhaps their only downfall for the average bird keeper is that they tend to produce so many offspring,” said Garrie Landry, owner of Acadiana Aviaries (, in Franklin, La., and author of “An Almost Complete Guide to: The Varieties and Genetics of the Zebra Finch.“ “Without proper management, in a very short amount time one can quickly end up with too many birds.“

“They really are the perfect finch for the beginner bird keeper ... there are few others to consider as a first time pet bird, except for the budgie. Start with zebra finches, and they’ll teach their keeper volumes about the care and breeding of birds in captivity.”


HOW TO HOUSE ZEBRA FINCHES As mentioned above, zebra finches should be kept in pairs. However, in some cases, you can keep more than one pair inside a cage, as long as it’s large enough. That’s according to Landry, who added, “Pairs should be housed in a cage that is at least 18 square inches in size, no smaller. If multiple pairs are to be kept together then the cage size should be based on the number of pairs time 18 square inches per pair for best results.”

He added that most tiny bird cages available at large pet chain stores are only suitable for transporting zebra finches. To find a cage large enough, look for a local pet store that caters to birds or find one online. LIFESPAN OF ZEBRA FINCHES These little birds can live anywhere from 5 to 15 years. In that time frame, you’ll easily fall in love with their antics, the little chirps and beeping sounds they make and watching them live their lives. While you’re at it, you’ll learn a lot about birds in general, especially if you

He told a story about giving his friend two pairs of zebra finches and what happened with her. “By the end of the year, she had more than 40 zebra finches and didn’t know what to do with so many. Eventually, she simply separated the sexes to prevent breeding and enjoyed looking at them.” If you aren’t interested in breeding these birds, choose two birds of the same sex. Thankfully, malemale/female-female pairs do quite well and develop close bonds.

are a first-time finch owner. “They really are the perfect finch for the beginner bird keeper,” Landry said. “There are few others to consider as a first-time pet bird, except for the budgie. Start with zebra finches, and they’ll teach their keeper volumes about the care and breeding of birds in captivity.” • Jessica Pineda is the editor in chief of Bird Talk. JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 115

DIAMOND MEMBERS Barry & Diane Fields, Colorado Rebecca Melanson, Ontario, Canada Gina Johnson, Alabama Stephanie Lucas, Washington Diane Krasner, Pennsylvania Mary Rose, California PLATINUM MEMBERS San Francisco Bird Hotel, California Dianna Ecarius, Virginia Mary Souder, Florida Arlene Longstreth, Pennsylvania

Bird Talk is proudly created by bird people for bird people and sponsored by, you guessed it, bird people! A special thank you to all our sponsors who are helping us bring this magazine into the hands of bird lovers all around the world.

Heidi Kommnick, Alberta, Canada Rebecca Frank, Washington Mary Wasacz, New York Alex Pineda, California Margaret DePue, Texas SILVER MEMBERS Tracy Adler, Arizona Janis Moore, California Vanessa Mattos, Pennsylvania Jane Maze, Alberta, Canada Katherine Golder, New York Sharon Miller, Alabama

DO YOU WANT TO BE PART OF BIRD TALK? Support independent publishers and be part of the magazine by joining our membership program. We have five tiers: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond. Each tier gets special reward benefits as a thank you for being part of our flock! For more information, visit Bronze Tier: A thank you from Bird Talk, and a free magnet with the first cover on it! Silver Tier: A personalized thank you, your name in the magazine and on the website,* a free magnet and a free monthly fact sheet filled with valuable bird information.

Gold Tier: A personalized thank you, your name in the magazine and on the website,* a free magnet, a free monthly fact sheet filled with valuable bird information and special access to our exclusive Facebook group. Platinum Tier: All of the above, PLUS your bird's picture in the magazine and the website!* Diamond Tier: All of the above, PLUS a free Bird Box sent to you once a year. This box will be filled with valuable bird goodies, free samples, and much more.

*Space is limited in the magazine. Your name/bird’s photo may not appear for several issues. 116 • B IR D TA LK • JUNE/JULY 2018


Meet Our Sponsors


What’s Happening on Check out the latest articles over at the New Bird Talk blog. • Do you know about the various types of bird enrichment? Check out the five types of enrichment over at • Looking for a healthy and delicious breakfast both you and your bird will love? Try our quinoa and scrambled eggs recipe at

• Want your bird to try some new foods? By putting them in an easy-to-make grain bake, your bird won’t be able to say no. Find the recipe at • Is it time to upgrade your bird’s cage? Follow these tips to make an old cage look new. Find out how at

• Do you know the signs of hormonal birds? Find out at


Bird Quiz

Think you know about hyacinth macaws? Take this quiz and find out! 1. The scientific name for the hyacinth macaw is: a. Psittaciformes b. Aves c. A. hyacinthinus d. ararauna 2. One misconception about the hyacinth macaw is that it is primarily a rainforest bird. Where does it live? a. Panama b. It commutes to Mexico c. It does indeed live in the rainforest! d. It usually avoids dense humid forest, selecting woodlands, other lightly wooded habitats and the Pantanal. 3. The hyacinth macaw is the heaviest of all parrots. a. True

b. False 4. The hyacinth passed their “big bill” genes down to their babies, which lead to larger bills in each generation. Why? a. There was less of a rainy season. b. Palm nuts became more rare. c. The Palm plant produces a better-defended seed with a more difficult outer coating to crack each succeeding generation. d. They were genetically predisposed to large beaks. 5. These are some threats to the Pantanal region, a favorite habitat of the hyacinth macaw. Which one is not a threat? a. A portion of it is a national park b. Commercial fishing d. Deforestation d. Cattle ranching Check your answers at JUNE/JULY 2018 • B IRD TA L K • 117




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MISSOURI BIRDIES BIRDS — Offers hand-fed babies; Amazons, Capes. Closed banded. Quality birds! Wholesale prices! 816-320-3393 VICKI’S FEATHERED FRIENDS — Hand-fed babies. Eclectus, Caiques, African greys, Quakers, Lories, Conures and more! Call for availability. 417-376-2271; cell: 417-3277308;


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Books, pellets, cages, toys. Home-raised, hand-fed babies and breeders.

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Hand-fed babies, Cockatiels, Senegals, Meyer’s, Brown Heads, Jardine’s, Capes, Timneh African Greys, Black-Headed and White-Bellied Caiques, Blue-Crowned and Halfmoon Conures, Pionus, Hawkheads, Moluccan Cocktatoos.

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Indy’s only exotic bird store. We specialize in hand-fed babies. Largest selection in the state for cages, food, toys and accessories. Open 7 days.


EXOTIC BIRDS BY FRAN, INC Quality hand-fed babies, tame and talking birds.

Cages • Supplies • Grooming and Boarding In-home grooming appointments available. 9215 Valley View • Cypress, CA 90630 714-761-0868 ©


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RARE BLUE PARROTS — Super rare, super beautiful, super talker. Sky-blue Mutations, Yellow-naped Amazons. A few available each year. 310-261-2537 (See our display advertisement in the Bird Talk Gallery.) PARROTS, CONURES, LOVEBIRDS, AMAZONS, Bluefront, Orange Wing, Double Yellow, Yellow Nape, Lilac, Red Lored, Macaws, Blue and Golds, Scarlet, Severe. 707-693-0205. SUNCHEEK PINEAPPLE, GREEN CHEEK Conures, Breeders and Babies. Original Breeder. Magna Yellow Heads, Timnehs, Ruppell’s. Hand-fed. Steve Garvin, 562429-1892; pictures at:


PENNSYLVANIA BIRD MANIA — Specialty Bird Shop. Hand-fed birds, food, toys, cages, grooming and boarding. Everything you need for your feathered friends. Mon-Sat 12-7 PM. 2733 W. Emaus Ave, Allentown, PA. 610-798-7799; debbie@;

TEXAS ABC BIRDS — Super selection of hand-fed baby and previously owned birds. Well-socialized/great guarantee. Boarding and behavior consultations. Humble, TX; 281-8522600;


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TC FEATHERS AVIARY and online avian store. Toys, food, cages and more. Hand-fed, home-raised babies. We invite people to come visit our aviary! 703349-4444;; tjfeathers


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BARBI’S BIRD HOUSE — PET BIRDS. Finches to Parrots. All the supplies to make your bird happy and healthy! Cages, toys, foods, supplements. By appointment only. Consultations/house calls. Shipping of supplies, not birds. Limited boarding available. Barbi and Roar Nossum. 206-842-6854;; www.



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RENSSELAER BIRD CENTER — Hand-fed babies, over 60 bulk feed bins, 100 cages on display, tons of toys, much more! 518-432-9674; (See our display advertisement in the Bird Talk Gallery.)

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The Birdie Boutique Durham, NC (919) 490-3001

The Most Cages and Supplies… The Very Best Care Information…Anywhere! Clinic and Store Owned & Operated by Board Certified Avian Veterinarian



A sick bird tends to fluff up its feathers, may appear sleepy and may sit low on the perch or at the bottom of the cage.

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BIRD AVIARY AVIARY FOR SALE: 5 years old, 8’ x 8’ hexagon, black/ white top, extra height added, powder coated, excellent condition, key lock door. Original owner. $1,000. Original purchase price $2,400 (receipt available). Price does not include dismantle or delivery Perfect for parrot(s). Tree/ perches, cup holders and hanging loop included. For more information contact Judy at 805 876-0220.

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"The Whistler's Whistling Workout for Birds" training CDs. Veterinarian recommended. © FOOD AND NUTRITION ALL NATURAL — Experts in nutrition and behavior. Specialty products to optimize health and alleviate problems. Dr. Davis, 440-357-5600; www. MACADAMIA NUT — Dry inshell $3.50. Shelled wholes, chips, fines. Call toll-free 877-563-8333; fax: 808-322-7797;

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FLORIDA FLORIDA (SOUTH) — The Bird & Exotic Hospital. Devoted to birds (and reptiles, small mammals). Premium diets, boarding. Palm Beach County area. Dr. Vanessa Rolfe, Dipl. ABVP (avian) 6147 Lake Worth Rd., Greenacres, FL; 561-964-2121 FLORIDA — Exclusive avian practice. Complete medical care and diagnostic services. Surgical sexing, evening and emergency service. Sam Backos, DVM, Dipl., ABVP. Board-Certified Avian Specialist. 3432 West Hillsboro Blvd., Deerfield Beach, FL 33442; 954-4270777; Emergency 954-427-0744. www.backosbirdclinic. com

NEW YORK DR. ROBERT WEINER — Member AAV. County Animal Hospital, 49 Congers Rd., New City, NY 10956; 845-634-4607. VETERINARY CENTER FOR BIRDS & EXOTICS — Caring exclusively for birds and exotics. Bedford Hills, NY.; 914-864-1414

NORTH CAROLINA AVIAN VETERINARY SERVICES CLINIC — Dr. Greg Burkett, board-certified avian veterinarian. Specialist and expert in pet bird care, medicine and surgery. Bird care supplies also available. Durham, NC; 919-490-3001; www.

Effin’ Birds? Yes, Effin’ Way! Foul-mouthed birds have captured the heart of the internet. By Jessica Pineda



t’s hard to explain the appeal of Effin’ Birds. I have trouble explaining it myself — in fact, most of the time, my only answer is “it’s an internet thing.” I know I’m not alone, at least: I join more than 80,000 people across social media who can’t stop laughing about illustrations of birds cursing, “noping” or proudly declaring “eat farts.” Wanting to know more about Effin’ Birds, I reached out to Aaron Reynolds, a software instructor based in Ottawa, Canada and the mind behind these expressive birds. We chatted about his creation, his work with Audubon, his upcoming book and birds in general.

Jessica Pineda: What would you describe Effin’ Birds as? Aaron Reynolds: I have a hard time describing it. It’s deceptively simple: It’s woodcut or paintings of birds paired with frustrated expressions that usually include cursing. It’s me figuring out what I’m frustrated with, trying to distill my feelings and writing down things that people can empathize with.

JP: I even have trouble describing it. It’s such an internet thing. Part of the subculture of it. AR: Exactly. Part of it is the contrast. Part of is that the artwork is so classically safe and friendly, combined with our frustrations about having more meetings at work.

that I was posting. People would ask me “what kind of bird is that?” and I would say, “that is bird34.png; that’s what the file name says.” Right now, I’m actually reading, A History of British Birds, Volume 1, containing the history and description of Land Birds by Thomas Bewick.

JP: You didn’t know a lot about birds before you started Effin’ Birds, right?

JP: Have you learned about the personality of birds?

AR: That’s correct. I know almost noth-

AR: I haven’t really learned much about their personalities. Sometimes I post something and people will say “oh, that would fit better with another bird.” I’m not going to get into that nitty-gritty, but I do understand why it’s funny. I went to a viewing of Finding Nemo with a couple of friends who were marine biologists. They were on the floor at some of the jokes about the behavior of fish, but those jokes didn’t register with me. I can see how that be funny, but I don’t think I’m going to do that.

ing about birds. Well, that’s not true anymore. I’ve learned a lot of birds in the last six months. [When I started] I couldn’t even name any of the birds

JP: So when you do have nail the bird’s personality, does that make you proud? JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 121

AR: I like it, though it’s often by accident. Mostly, I’m looking at these drawings and engravings and trying to figure out what the bird is thinking. I take that illustration, and then I look at a note on my phone, which is a long list of everything I’ve been feeling that week. I pair my favorite one and then post it.

sitting in an evergreen tree. He looks so downtrodden — because that’s what cardinals look like — and he’s saying “fa la la la la, blah blah blah.” JP: That’s so funny they let that be their Christmas card for their donors. AR: I was so thrilled.

JP: On your store page,

you have The Audubon Collection, where you give some of your Effin’ Birds proceeds to them. How much have you been able to donate? AR: Yeah, that’s for the John James

Audubon Center at Mill Grove [in Pennsylvania]. I think we’ve donated $3,500 so far.

JP: They promote your stuff a lot. How

these are things that are really important to us, can you have your birds say these things.” Then they’ll tweet them out on their Twitter account. I even got asked to make some Effin’ Birds for the Audubon donor Christmas cards. We tried to play it safe but sarcastic. That one featured a cardinal

JP: Has the Audubon Center seen an increase in the interest of birds because of Effin’ Birds? AR: I haven’t asked them about it, but I know that was one of their aims. Audubon has a society has a membership that skews older, which makes sense. When you think of bird watchers, you don’t think of people in their

did you start working with them?

AR: It’s funny. I did an interview with Audubon, and it went really well. Then someone from the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove asked if I ever considered using Audubon’s paintings in Effin’ Birds. We had a nice long conversation about what that would like, came to an agreement, and since then I’ve been making some Effin’ Birds with full-color Audubon painting. Once in a while, I’ll get an email that says, “hey,

“[When I started] I couldn’t even name any of the birds that I was posting. People would ask me ‘what kind of bird is that?’ and I would say, ‘that is bird34.png; that’s what the file name says.’” 122 • B IR D TA LK • JUNE/JULY 2018

How did Effin’ Birds Start? Pairing funny captions with photos is something that Aaron Reynolds, the creator of Effin’ Birds, has done for a while. He’s found success with Swear Trek, where he rewrites scenes from Star Trek using similar humor as Effin’ Birds. There’s also Batman 66 Labels, where Reynolds showcases the many descriptive signs from the old TV show. When Reynolds moved onto birds as his subject matter, it was more by chance than anything else. “I happened to see an ad for this stock art collection of bird engravings, and there was an owl on it that looked so ridiculously upset,” he explained. It was that that inspired him to buy the package and eventually start Effin’ Birds. Since then, Effin’ Birds tweets are now on shirts and mugs, framed as pictures and have even been used as protest signs. One of the best things about Effin’ Birds tweets is when they act as reaction posts, especially when they show up on a Twitter timeline right after a tweet that is shocking, funny or stupid. The Effin’ Birds tweet often perfectly compliments the tweet before it in a way that is sarcastic and hilarious.

20s. Audubon’s goal was to reach a wider and younger demographic, and I hope I’m helping with that. JP: What is the coolest place you’ve seen Effin’ Birds out in the wild? AR: One of my favorites was a protest

sign at the Women’s March in Chicago. The person asked me if they could print one of my tweets onto a sign. I offered to send them a high-resolution image and paid for them to print it. Then I was really happy to see it show up on the news in Chicago a bunch of times. Another place I saw my stuff was in a dustup on Twitter, between two different writers. One of them was the former editor of a magazine and one of the current writers. The writer ended up using an Effin’ Birds tweet in the middle of the conversation. [In response] the former editor had a bit of an extended rant about how dumb Effin’ Birds was and wrote, “the idea of

AR: Yeah. I found it’s a great way of de-

“It’s deceptively simple: it’s wood cut or paintings of birds paired with frustrated expressions that usually include cursing.”

scribing Effin’ Birds in a way I have had a hard time doing.

JP: How did he respond to you request-

ing permission to use his quote?

AR: At first he didn’t even reply. After

a while, he finally replied with a single word: “Like.” I took that as an endorsement.

JP: So what inspired you to take Effin’

Birds mainstream in the form of a book?

combining a pic of a bird with some lazy half-obscenity is really something that would barely amuse elementary school kids ... very sad and contrived.” I was really happy to reply to him and asked if I could use that quote for my book jacket. JP: That is a great quote.

AR: When I was growing up, my favorite part of the book was where all the weird books were. Books like “The Stinky Cheese” or “The Meaning of Liff.” I always had a dream that I would have a book just like those in the weird corner of the bookstore.

[See the sidebar “The Effin’ Birds Book” for more information.] JP: What does your family think of

The Effin’ Birds Book Right now, Aaron Reynolds, the creator of Effin’ Birds is working on “Effin’ Birds: A Guide to Field Identification.” The book’s website describes it as “a compact, comprehensive and very silly field guide, featuring more than 200 of the best,

rudest, and most hilarious Effin’ Birds!” and “takes the Effin Birds one step further by giving them context, backgrounds and lives of their own.” The book is promising to be just as wildly successful as Effin’ Birds themselves, too; it was financed entirely through crowdfunding, with more than 1,000 backers signing on to help bring the book to life. So what inspired Reynolds to write a book? “When I was growing up, my favorite part of the book was where all the weird books were, like “The Stinky Cheese” or “The Meaning of Liff,” he said. “I always had a dream that I would have a book just like those in the weird corner of the bookstore.” Looks like that dream might come true. Right now, Effin’ Birds publication date is still to be determined, but you can order a copy at

JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 123

“On Twitter, I had a brief contest where I promised a special treat to the first person who sent me a photo of their mug on their desk in a meeting without getting fired. A nice lady sent me a photo from a meeting at Volvo.”

all this? Do they have a favorite Effin’ Birds tweet?

JP: What’s the favorite Effin’ Birds among your fans?

AR: At first my wife didn’t like it, but now she likes them. My son, who is 7, suggested having an eagle flying by that says “Eat Farts.” That turned out to be really successful, and we now have a framed print of that eagle saying “Eat Farts,” in his room. At first, my wife objected to that, but when I explained how much the “eat farts” eagle paid for the new stove, she was OK with it. I’m going to say that’s her favorite one.

AR: The “eat farts” one is super popu-


What about you? What’s your favorite Effin’ Birds tweet?

AR: I like the ones that are

just nonsense. There’s one of a Kingfisher that’s sitting on a fence like a rooster saying “F**k-a-doodle-do.” I usually like the one I just made until the next one comes along.

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lar. The one that really surprised me is a little duck that’s saying “I bet this problem will go away if we have more f**king meetings.” He has sold more mugs than anyone else. I think that’s a measure of success for Effin’ Birds.

JP: I love that one! It’s so relevant. AR: On Twitter, I had a brief contest

where I promised a special treat to the first person who sent me a photo of their mug on their desk in a meeting without getting fired. A nice lady sent me a photo from a meeting at Volvo. JP: So what’s next for Effin’ Birds? AR: Effin’ Birds is going to stick

around for a while because I feel like I’m going to continue to have feelings. John James Audubon painted like 400-and-something birds, and that’s a lot of birds to work through. Sometime soon, we’re going to do like a week or month of original bird art because I made a lot of artist friends on this project. I want to showcase their artwork on Effin’ Birds. •

Want to find out more about Effin’ Birds? Find Aaron Reynolds and Effin’ Birds on Twitter at twitter. com/effinbirds or at www.

Essential Oils Can adding oils to your bird’s diet better her health? By Patricia Sund and Jason Crean



hen it comes to our birds’ diet and nutrition, a general theme is staying clear of high-fat foods. But is all fat bad? The answer simply depends on the type of fat. Some “good fats” can provide important health benefits. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are an important component of healthy diets. These are often referred to as “good fats,” because of the wide variety of health benefits they can provide when administered properly. When assessing avian diets, we find their requirements for these fats are substantial. They play a critical role in aiding a bird’s system by replacing dying cells and producing vibrant feathers. Fats are also crucial in maintaining healthy skin, promoting a robust immune system, and so much more. These good fats also aid in the absorption of important vitamins like A, D, K and E. All of these nutrients must be consumed through the food a bird eats. These important nutrients are occasionally difficult to manage as they become inactive when heated, processed or exposed to light for a period of time. Some nutrients can be consumed within whole foods. However, a few can be efficiently offered as an oil taken safely from its original source. “EFA deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies we see in avian medicine and, thankfully, an easy one to correct,” said Karen Becker, DVM, NMD, of Natural Pet Animal Hospital and Feathers Bird Clinic in Bourbonnais, Ill. “By managing chronic, low-grade inflammation through appropriate EFA balance, we can reduce degenerative disease potential. Supplementing EFAs can improve skin and feathers, organ and reproductive health, behavior and immune health.” SHOW ME THE GOOD OIL There are two major types of fats needed in avian diets: omega-3 and the omega-6 fatty acids. What are easy ways of offering your birds these all-important fats? For birds large enough to consume them, nuts are one of the best sources for omega-3. Walnuts have significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, as do many other nuts. Pecans, filberts (hazelnuts), pine nuts, and Brazil nuts are all excellent choices and the readily

available raw pumpkin seed is a reliable source of EFAs. For smaller birds, flaxseed, hemp seed and sesame seed are good sources of EFAs. Unfortunately, these oils are not particularly easy for a bird’s system to extract from a whole food source. These seeds can be quite fibrous and difficult to digest; however, an efficient way of introducing EFAs into your bird’s diet is to offer essential oils in their liquid form. OIL TIPS Oils are highly bioavailable, or readily absorbed by the body and easily put to use. Obtain oils that are either cold-pressed or expeller-pressed and unprocessed. Refrigerate after opening. Oils can also be offered in a variety of ways. An easy way is to mix it with dry food. Many birds relish oils when mixed with seeds and pellets. Oils can be topped or mixed with room-temperature cooked foods. Rice, quinoa or pasta are excellent choices. Oil can also be lightly drizzled onto other items such as birdie bread. Soaking birdie bread in the oils or brushing it on cooled bread once the oil has reached or gone above room temperature after baking is also effective. Some birds even accept oil in its original form from a spoon or from a dropper. Don’t add oils to drinking water, as they don’t mix. JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 125

INVESTING IN OIL Oils that have been effectively used with birds include the following:

Flaxseed Oil

Hemp Oil

Flaxseed contains one of the highest counts of Omega-3 fatty acids. The seeds are difficult to break down in order to extract the oils, so offering the pressed oil is best. The only downside of this process is that producing the oil removes the lignans, hormone-like substances that act as an antioxidant. However, flaxseed oil can be purchased with lignans, so your birds can also benefit from these helpful compounds. Flaxseed oil assists the circulatory system by removing potentially harmful LDL cholesterol and increasing the healthy HDL cholesterol.

Hemp oil has an ideal balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Hemp oil helps maintain a glowing skin condition, as well as increased feather quality. It benefits circulation by improving heart health while helping keep the membranes of cells fit and strong.

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This oil also helps regulate a healthy metabolism and can help ease joint pain associated with arthritis.

Borage & Primrose Oil These oils are often available together as a mixture, as they readily complement each other. Borage oil is high in Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids. One in particular is gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) that the body uses to produce anti-inflammatory compounds. Therefore, individuals with arthritis and joint inflammation can benefit from its consumption. Evening primrose oil has been used for its anti-inflammatory benefits. Evening primrose also appears to improve the quality of the skin.

A Drop Of Oil Adding oils to the avian diet. There is no perfect model when it comes to how much oil per day or week to offer to your flock. For small birds, a drop or two per day is a good target, as long as you can determine how much was actually ingested. Adding the oil to one popular food choice might be a logical way to track how much they’re eating. Adding oils to dry foods is fine as long as it is only left out for short periods of time. These oils are rich in nutrients and, like all nutritious food, may spoil rather quickly. An hour or two with your flock should give them sufficient time to select the foods they prefer before discarding. Mixing with soft foods is also a great introduction, but care should be taken to remove the surplus before it sours. Aside from coconut oil, these oils become rancid quickly because they are sensitive to heat and light. For this reason, always buy small quantities, use within three months, and refrigerate at all times. Purchase products that have expiration dates on the bottle and rotate varieties. As with all foods, no matter what you include in your bird’s diet, moderation and variety is essential. Always consult with your avian veterinarian before adding to or changing your bird’s diet.


Black Currant Oil The seeds of the black currant plant used to create this oil are high in GLA, which appears to have anti-inflammatory benefits. Administered to increase immune system function, some studies suggest black currant oil possesses antiviral properties. An interesting study was published in “Phytotherapy Research” (February 2003) detailing its immune-enhancing effect and found it is particularly protective against the influenza virus.

Coconut Oil This unique oil is the richest known source of medium chain triglycerides (MCT), which provide instant energy without the need for insulin as they are not typically stored within the body. Highly digestible and ideal for supporting the digestive tract, coconut oil can be heated without compromising the quality, but it is solid at room temperature. It can be converted to liquid form by simply warming it to 76-degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Birds have been known to readily eat it in its solid form, although it can be added to just about any food item. An

excellent source of lauric acid, it contains antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. Coconut oil has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer and other degenerative conditions, improving cholesterol levels and helping fight heart disease. Aiding in relieving arthritis and helping balance the body’s metabolism and hormones, coconut oil can improve the quality of skin and feathers and reduces allergic reactions. Obtain organic, virgin coconut oil that has been cold or expeller-pressed. •

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EFA Basics What are essential fatty acids? An essential fatty acid is an unsaturated fatty acid vital to health, but it cannot be manufactured in the body. It must be introduced to the body through food. There are two major types of fats needed in avian diets: omega-3 and the omega-6 fatty acids. These polyunsaturated fats, shown to lower the risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease, are characteristically liquid at room temperature. These healthy fats help to build cell membranes, or “packets” comprised primarily of fat that enclose every healthy cell in the body. Without these fats, the cells must rely on other types of fats to rebuild when necessary. When these cells are not strong, overall health can suffer.

Omega-3 sources are a bit more challenging to introduce, yet they are vital to a healthy diet. These oils are sensitive to heat, light and processing, so transporting and storage is difficult. Once purchased, these liquid oils must be kept refrigerated to avoid going rancid or denaturing. Necessary for a healthy immune response, omega-3s provide cells with essential elements, allowing them to reproduce. Omega-3s also have an important function in hormone synthesis that allows normal growth and development. In a study published in the “Journal of Experimental Biology” researchers increased non-migratory birds’ intake of omega-3 fatty acids and found

that birds that were not able to exercise still increased their flight muscle enzyme activity by 58 to 90 percent. This might be something that we can apply to companion birds that may not get as much exercise as we would like. Omega-6s are important to a healthy reproductive system, tip-top organ function (especially kidney and liver), along with healthy skin and feather condition. Birds not obtaining enough of these fatty acids might display behavioral issues and suffer from various conditions, such as wounds that fail to heal properly, infertility and even allergies. Omega-6 fatty acids (linoleic acid) are more readily available in bird food items like sunflower, safflower and pumpkin seeds.


Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in seeds like sunflower, safflower and pumpkin.

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What Does 'Birb' Mean?

How this one word has come to define a new generation of bird owners and lovers around the world. By Amanda Lafond


f you’ve spent a decent amount of time on social media, you may have found that “birb” is the word. No, not “bird,” but the intentionally misspelled “birb.” But what is “birb” and where did it come from? If you haven’t heard about the birb yet, well I’m here to help you out! “Birb” and its meaning are what could be considered a “meme.” As related to its internet usage, Merriam-Webster defines “meme” as, “an amusing or interesting item — such as a captioned picture or video — or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media.” I tend to think of them as internet-wide inside jokes. Memes are varied and can fall into many categories. Birb hits a sweet spot because it’s both intentionally incorrect and related to animal humor. A “birb” is essentially a “bird,” but often those using it tend to do so when referring to one being cute or funny. If you’ve ever come across the “doge” meme, birb functions in a similar fashion. Although, birb seems to have become a more major part of internet lexicon and even a community defining word, while doge has faded away. On social media platforms, like Tumblr and Twitter, younger parrot enthusiasts have formed groups like “Birblr” (Birb Tumblr) and #BirbTwitter. Within these communities, members share pictures, videos, gifs, stories and more of any kind of birds, though the most prevalent are parrots. There is typically no bar of entry to join these groups; to say you are a member is enough. To be part of the birb phenomenon, all that

is required is to simply to enjoy and appreciate birds, especially if they are being adorable or funny. Many of those in these groups may not even own a bird, but are just bird fans, and that’s OK too. It’s a unique type of appreciation for our feathered friends that has spawned and thrived thanks to the connectivity of the internet. Images, videos, and more that are shared in these communities can sometimes go viral and spread beyond to many corners of the internet — another reason for the pervasiveness of “birb.” Unfortunately, sometimes content may be reuploaded without credit, so the exact spread of a particular image can be hard to track. Many, like meme recording site KnowYourMeme, trace the first usage of birb back to a popular Twitter account called BirdsRightsActivist, a parody account in which the tweets are written as if they come from a European robin intent on furthering the political agenda of birds everywhere. On November 12, 2012, BirdsRightsActivist wrote “birb” in a one-word tweet and shared it with the internet. The word has remained a staple for the account, even being used on bumper stickers sold through their affiliated store. Since then, the word has picked up in popularity and ubiquity over the years, even giving rise to “celebirbties” such as Alex the Honking Bird, and Coo the Cockatoo, both birds whose videos have been spread through birb communities many times. My own social media accounts for Pepper and Pals would surely not have the followings they do without

these groups and their enthusiasm. Holly Conrad, YouTuber, cosplayer, artist, and (most importantly) bird enthusiast, could be considered a community leader, and her platform has been undeniably instrumental in the spread of birb. Conrad had this to say when asked what birb means to her: “I think birb is a movement of kindness. A willingness to see these creatures as funny, wholesome and in need of protection. Our protection, as those that have brought them into our lives as pets. It’s our job to spread awareness, funny pictures, and kindness of these amazing creatures so that we can better their lives as they better ours.” That awareness and kindness have led to what may be groups like Birblr and BirbTwitter’s greatest contributions: the passing of information. While people buying a bird after watching cute videos may be a problem, many popular accounts are quick to warn followers that the behind-thescenes is not always so adorable. As for those who already have birds and may have questions, these groups always have members ready to offer their experience and advice. Facebook in particular even has groups specialized by species that are merely a search away. Bird Talk has its own with the Bird Talk Flock group. Many members find their way there through the spread of cute videos and pictures in the realm of birb. There is more information out there for new and prospective bird owners now more than ever! “I’m so, so glad that we have such a big supportive community that can help JUNE/JULY 2018 • BI RD TA L K • 129


first-time bird owners,” Conrad said. “Birds are very complicated and intelligent animals, and sometimes new owners can be very confused from their behaviors. So if we have a thriving community of people who can share information — and cute videos and memes — we’re in a sense saving lives. We’re making sure more birds 130 • B IR D TALK • JUNE/JULY 2018

have forever homes.” It’s possible “birb” was a necessary movement that came about to connect and organize the young and upcoming generation of bird owners. While this intentional misspelling might seem a bit silly to bird keepers who have been around since before the internet’s rise,

we can all agree on one of the birb community’s founding principles: birds are adorable, special, and worthy of every bit of the love we give them. • Amanda Lafond was raised by a cockatiel and lives in upstate New York. She spends much of her time sharing pictures of her birds with the internet under Pepper and Pals.


Fun, Art & Poetry by Kids

Mitred Conure, Chicken Man By Amanda, Anika, Bella, Caroline and Kiki, Ages 7 to 13 Submitted by Brenda Jorgensen, Texas


Eclectus, Maise Gavin Baird, Age 7, Ohio

“Kids Talk Back” is specifically set aside for drawings, poetry and stories about our young readers’ birds. If you would like to make a submission, email it to and put “Kids Talk Back” in the subject line of your email. You may also mail submissions to Bird Talk, Attn: Kids Talk Back, 10824 Olson Dr, Ste C, #380, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670. Be sure to add your name, address, telephone number and age on the back of each submission. Drawings should be on unlined paper. All submissions to “Kids Talk Back” automatically become the property of the publisher and cannot be returned.

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Reader Photos

Gotta get my beauty sleep in!

Smoothies inside?! I’ll just help you open this box. Skylar, Indian ring-necked parakeet Michelle Shrewberry, Arizona

Milo, cockatiel Shelby Ulrich, NJ

You can’t beat this look. Falco, nanday conure Arlene Longstreth, Pennsylvania

Peek-a-boo! China Goffin’s Cockatoo Melanie Ariessohn, California

SEND US YOUR PHOTOS! “Watch the Birdie” is specifically set aside for photographs of our readers’ birds. If you would like to submit a picture of your bird for consideration, send a clear, in-focus color photograph to, with “Watch the Birdie” as the subject line. Digital images must be high resolution, 300 dpi and 3 by 5 inches to be suitable for print. Alternatively, you may send photos to Bird Talk, Attn: Watch the Birdie, 10824 Olson Dr, Ste C, #380, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670. Be sure to include your bird’s name, your name, address and phone number on the back of each photo. Photographs submitted to “Watch the Birdie” automatically become the property of the publisher and cannot be returned. 132 • B IR D TA LK • JUNE/JULY 2018

What do you mean my tongue isn’t long enough to lick my beak? Ben, orange-winged Amazon Jessica Hagedorn, Wisconsin



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June/July 2018 Bird Talk Magazine  

Get the latest of parrot health, behavior, lifestyle and more with the June/July issue of Bird Talk!

June/July 2018 Bird Talk Magazine  

Get the latest of parrot health, behavior, lifestyle and more with the June/July issue of Bird Talk!