Armchair Warriors

I’ve seen several people upset lately that they can’t post anything fun online without being criticized. Here’s the thing: misinformation kills.

Last weekend I picked up two cockatiels from a woman. When I asked if she had any other birds, she told me that she had a blue & gold macaw, but it had died.

“What happened?”
“We poisoned it.”

Turns out they painted their house and left the bird inside. After a while the bird went into respiratory distress. She moved it outside for a bit and “tried to comfort” it, but then brought it back inside, at which point “she got so scared of going back into the house that she had a heart attack.” The bird didn’t have a heart attack out of fright, but died of respiratory problems caused by exposure to fumes.

A third cockatiel I picked up last weekend was in good condition. However, the seller also had an eclectus kept in a carrier barely big enough for the bird to turn around in. It was also on an all-seed diet (not great for any bird, but eclectus have specialized digestive systems and need a different diet). It had stress bars and black feathers all over its body from unintentional abuse.

DAILY I see posts about birds that flew away.

If you make a post and someone mentions something you’re doing that could potentially be harmful, please swallow your pride and think about why. Many people post fun things and DON’T know that what they’re doing is harmful. We don’t know if you know, and those of us with more experience have a duty to educate. But it’s not all about the OP. There are newbies everywhere reading these posts and THEY need to be educated. If nothing is said, if the risks aren’t brought up, then they will think everything is 100% okay and perfectly normal. This is why I try to add disclaimers to my own posts that could be taken the wrong way (eg. “this is a travel cage, not their actual cage”). Those of us with more experience can do better risk analysis when it comes to our actions, newbies cannot.

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Fry was on a safflower diet for years.

I know people can takes these criticisms personally, but it is anything but personal. The sad fact is that there are still so many uneducated pet owners out there. Those of us who work in the industry, be we breeders, rescues, veterinarians, or pet store owners, deal with the fallout when a bird has been cared for incorrectly. You may not see that side of it, but we do, and we try our best to prevent it through the dissemination of accurate information. We’re not trying to be killjoys.

© 2017 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

Recipes

Want to submit a recipe? Email me!

All- Purpose Bread

This was originally a recipe for an apricot nut loaf. Bread is one of the best things you can make for your birds. Why?

  • Even picky eaters will usually eat it.
  • Bread is very flexible; you can add just about anything in it.
  • You can get your bird to eat foods it normally wouldn’t by concealing them inside bread.

The ingredient list here is only a basic guideline. Like I said before, you can add just about anything you want. Fruits and nuts bake great, veggies usually don’t. Warning: don’t add tomatoes unless you REALLY love the smell. The bread will reek of them while it’s baking and whenever it’s re-heated.

Ingredients

3/4 cup dried fruit
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup Crazy Corn
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tsp Spirulina
2 tbl melted butter
3 eggs with shell
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup chopped walnuts & pine nuts

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In one bowl mix all the powders (flour, Spirulina, baking soda and powder). Throw everything else into another bowl. Make sure everything is well mixed and eggs shells are well crunched as the bread will be very thick. Add all the powders to your “everything else” bowl. Mix well again. Batter should be very thick and chunky. If it’s not add more fruit/nuts/whatever. Pour in pan, bake 55-60 minutes. Let bread cool before cutting. Cut bread into slices (however much you will use at once) and store in a ziplock baggy in the freezer. Defrost however much you need later.

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Simple Eggfood

All birds, especially breeding pairs, need protein. This can be supplied in many ways. Most poultry owners and some parrot owners buy their birds lay mash. Others prepare bean mixes. Another easy way to give your birds protein is to serve them eggs (and no this is not cannibalism). Not only does it provide protein, but if you mix in the eggshells they’ll get extra calcium as well. As one of my AVS professors put it, “The egg is the most complete form of nutrition.”

Ingredients

The number of eggs depends on how many birds you’re planning to feed. One egg goes a long way. If you’re like me and you’ve raised quail at one point or another, 4-6 quail eggs equals one chicken egg. There are also many extras you can add if you like to make a little omelet: peppers, veggies, and beans.

Instructions

Take out a bowl or measuring cup that is microwave-safe. Toss entire egg into bowl and crunch up well. Put bowl into microwave and heat until the egg is puffy and there is no “goo” left. This may take 90 or more seconds depending on the strength of your microwave and how many eggs you’re cooking. Alternately, cook on the stovetop. Place egg on plate and crunch further, making sure the shell is well mixed and not clumped together. Serve while warm and take out unfinished portion within an hour as it will start to spoil and attract ants.

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Rice Pudding Muffins (submitted)

Ingredients

2 cup apple juice
2 cup instant rice
1/4 cup raisins or dates
1 15 oz. can of sweet potatoes (use 1/2 the juice from the can also)
3 tbsp honey
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup flaked coconut
3 large eggs
1 box of yellow cake mix
1/4 cup chopped nuts

Instructions

Add the raisins to the apple juice and bring to a boil in the microwave. You’ll need a large bowl. After the juice boils for one minute remove and add instant rice, cover and allow to cool. Set this aside. Blend sweet potatoes with honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, coconut and eggs until smooth. In a large bowl empty the box of yellow cake mix and then fold in the rice mixture and add the potatoe mix. Stir everything together and bake a 400 degrees in muffin tins until golden brown. Makes about 3 1/2 dozen muffins.

Feather Health

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Feathers are made up of the same material as fingernails. They help birds regulate their temperature, allow them to fly, facilitate communication, and can indicate the overall health of a bird.

Maintenance/Preening
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Aside from wing clipping, feathers require no extra maintenance on your part. Like cats, birds keep their own feathers clean. They will spend hours a day preening their feathers to keep them in good shape. Preening involves gathering oil from the uropygial gland, located at the base of the tail, and spreading it over the feathers. Each feather is individually run through the beak and straightened.

A few species- cockatoos, cockatiels, and African greys- have specialized down feathers that dissolve into a fine keratin powder. This powder performs the same function as the oil from the uropygial gland. However, it makes these species extremely “dusty.” If you keep these birds indoors you may need a good air filter. If a powder species doesn’t seem to be producing any powder, take it as a sign of illness. PBFD is one possible cause.

You can help your bird keep itself clean by allowing it access to a shallow dish for daily bathing, or by spray misting it. I do not recommend applying any kind of product to a bird’s feathers. There is no need. Birds produce their own oil/powder naturally and do not need any special “conditioner.”

Molting

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Pinfeathers dot this budgie’s head. (X)

Twice a year your bird will molt. Molting is the process of losing feathers and replacing them with new ones, not unlike a dog shedding. It is done gradually, so while you may find lots of excess feathers in your bird’s cage, your bird will not appear to have lost anything. New feathers grow in encapsulated by a waxy sheath. You will see these pinfeathers start to dot the top of your bird’s head where it cannot reach. Pinfeathers can be itchy and if your bird allows head scratches you can help release the new feathers by gently rubbing them between your fingers. Normally this is done by flock mates.

Blood feathers are pinfeathers which are still being fed by a blood supply. Flight feathers grow in as blood feathers and can bleed profusely if broken open while they are still growing in. If a bird has a broken blood feather you can attempt to stop the bleeding by putting flour on it. If that doesn’t work, grasp the feather at the base of the skin with needle nose pliers and swiftly yank it out in the direction it is growing. Only yank as a last resort as you can cause damage to the follicle.

Stress Bars

If you’re finding lines across your bird’s feathers then you have a problem. Stress and malnutrition during a molt can both cause new feathers to emerge with stress bars.

Plucking & Feather Loss

The first thing to do is determine why a bird is losing feathers. Not all feather loss is caused by plucking, and not all plucking is the result of neglect. Giardia can cause intense itching, which can then lead to plucking. Thankfully, it can be treated. PBFD causes severe feather loss and compromises the immune system. There is no cure for PBFD. If your bird is losing feathers it is best to take it to a qualified avian veterinarian first to rule out any medical causes. Make sure your bird is receiving a good diet and that the humidity isn’t too high or low. Many of our pets come from tropical climates, so if you live in an exceptionally dry area this could be exacerbating any problems.

It’s usually quite easy to tell if a bird is plucking itself. Birds can only pluck the areas they can reach, so a bird that is plucking itself will be losing feathers on the chest and back but never the head.

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This African grey exhibits overall poor health in addition to plucking of the chest and back. All the remaining wing and tail feathers are bent, drab, and stressed. Photo by Tambako the Jaguar.

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This blue and gold macaw had plucked its entire chest and legs. Photo by Rodrigo Soldon.

Feather plucking is a difficult habit to break once it’s begun, so swift intervention is always best. A bird could be picking for any number of reasons: poor health, parasites, stress, or boredom. Birds without anything to do rapidly turn to destructive behaviors like plucking and even self-mutilation. Make sure your bird has plenty of toys/activities AND companionship.

If you adopt a feather plucker, a proper home will go a long way towards halting the plucking, but it can still remain a habit. If this is the case, make sure your bird has plenty else to do. Foraging toys, chew toys, exercise, etc. will all help. You can also get a special vest to help protect the chest.

Some birds are plucked by their mates. This is actually quite common and not a cause for concern, so long as it does not progress to something worse. When a mate is doing the plucking, feather loss is usually restricted to the head because this is where they mutually preen.

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Vita has been plucked by her mate for years. Notice how it is completely confined to the head.

Injury is another source of feather loss. If a bird is severely injured then the feather follicles may be damaged beyond repair, preventing any new feathers from growing.

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Blue boy had a head injury years ago, and retains a quarter-sized bald patch to this day.

Copyright © 2001 by Karen Trinkaus unless otherwise noted and may not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

What to Feed Your Bird

diet

Malnutrition is the #1 Cause of Illness in Birds
Birds need a good diet just like every other animal. A poor diet creates a bird with a myriad of problems. It can lead to obesity, tumors and diabetes. It also compromises the immune system, making the bird more susceptible to infections. Even so, most people aren’t feeding their birds right. Many give them only seed and water, the equivalent of a bread and water diet in humans. Usually this is due to ignorance.

My Bird Won’t Eat That…
Feeding your birds a nutritional and varied diet is THE most important thing you can do to keep them healthy. If you are having trouble converting your bird please see Getting Your Bird to Try New Foods. Below are the three reasons birds typically won’t convert:

  1. They do not recognize the item as food.
  2. The food is being presented wrong.
  3. The owner isn’t being persistent enough.

Birds do have their preferences, but they should also be willing to accept a variety of foods. My birds get a veggie mix of green beans, Lima beans, carrots, corn and peas. Most of my birds go for the corn first and then consume all but the carrots. Fry, my mitred conure, will eat everything but the Lima beans. Ringnecks will eat the carrots. Peas are my kakarikis’ first choice. Both corn and peas are high in starch. Fry loves all bread products. He often shares breakfast with me. He will ignore everything else and go for the bread, eating all but the “crust,” even on muffins. This doesn’t mean he won’t eat non-bread items. If I place an item in his dish he will eat it. If I’m eating something he will want some too (we’re sharing a chicken tamale as I write this). When a bird does not have access to a favorite food, it has to eat what is available.

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My Seed is Better Than Your Seed…
You probably buy a seed mix with “fortified” or “gourmet” on the package, right? I’ll let you in on a little secret about seed mixes: one is just as good as another. While you’re paying $6.49 for 2 lbs. of that “Fiesta Fortified Gourmet Bird Food” I’m paying $8.25 for 25 lbs. of plain seed. Many stores sell seed mixes that contain just seed. Sometimes these mixes aren’t even a name brand or are packaged in-store. They are much cheaper.

“But wait! The seed I buy contains dried fruits, veggies and nutrient supplements!”

Does your bird actually eat any of those dried items, or does it just pick out the seeds? I’ve found that birds a much more likely to try new foods if they are offered in a separate dish. If pellets are mixed in with seed (like manufacturers suggest) they are often ignored. The bird will just eat its seeds and dismiss the foreign item. Offer new items in a different bowl.

Vitamin supplements do not work with seed mixes. If a seed mix claims to contain supplements what it means is that vitamins are sprayed onto some of the seeds. However, because all psittacines husk their seed before eating it, the vitamin-coated exterior is cast aside and only the uncoated seed itself is consumed. It is best to leave seed plain and supplement by offering other foods.

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Wet greens double as a bath for budgies.

Pellets vs. Seed
Seed is like bread- it’s good, but in no way a complete diet. If bread is all you eat eventually you will have many problems due to malnutrition. Seed is perfectly healthy if it is supplemented with other foods. Some seeds are higher in fat than others, like sunflower, peanuts and safflower. These should be avoided, especially in species that are prone to obesity (Galahs, amazons, budgies). A few species can tolerate high fat but not many. You can increase the nutritional content of seeds by sprouting them. In the wild birds eat seed still growing on the plant. The dry seed we offer our birds is nowhere near as nutritious as sprouted.

Pellets are designed to be a complete diet. They provide all the vitamins and minerals a bird needs. This means you should NOT offer other foods, especially not cuttlebone, mineral block or vitamins. You risk either overdosing or diluting your bird’s intake by feeding other foods with pellets. The downside of pellets is that they can be expensive and there’s no psychological benefit to feeding them. Birds like to forage and play with their food and pellets are kinda boring.

The bulk of my current diet is seed. Pellets are offered in a separate dish, and yes, the birds do eat them even though they have seed. Every day I also offer a fresh or cooked food. This could be frozen veggies, fresh greens, fruit, pasta, eggs or Crazy Corn. These items are rotated so that every day the birds get a different fresh/cooked food.

Vitamin & Mineral Supplements
Birds have dry mouths. Vitamins are utterly useless when sprinkled on seed or dry foods. Putting them in water does no good either as they will only lose their potency and provide a breeding ground for bacteria. If you do want to use vitamin supplements, sprinkle them on your wet foods.

All birds on a seed diet should be offered cuttlebone and/or mineral block.

Grit should NOT be offered to psittacines. All hookbills husk their seed before consuming it, hence they have no need for grit. Some birds will also consume massive quantities of grit which will impact their crop. Grit is fine for softbills (birds that do not husk their seed like doves and finches).

Feeding a Varied Diet

So what do birds need? Tony Silva probably explains it best. Basically anything that a health food nut would eat is what birds should be eating: lots of vegetables, some fruits, low-fat, low-salt, grains, etc. Use your imagination! Try some of my recipes. Here’s a better idea of what you can feed: corn, peas, carrots, carrot tops, beans (must be COOKED!), legumes, rice (must be COOKED!), pasta, chicken, bread, egg, Crazy Corn, grapes, mangos, apples, peaches, pears, apricots, plums, kiwi, berries (whatever kind is in season), parsley, chickweed and bananas. This is just to give you an idea. You can feed much more than this. Keep it varied.

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Fresh sunflower is a big hit.

 

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Sprouting seed will make it far more nutritious.

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Skewers can make foods more entertaining.

Making “chop.” Dicing up ingredients and freezing them in baggies allows you to quickly serve quality food later with minimal prep.

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Whole foods offer enrichment as well as nutrition.

Special notes on Iceburg Lettuce and Spinach:
Iceburg lettuce has no nutritional value. It’s basically all water. Spinach contains a chemical which binds to calcium, making it unable to be absorbed by the body (so much for Popeye). It is healthy but should only be fed sparingly.

Don’t forget to give your bird fresh water too. Change it everyday. Some birds like to dunk food in their water or use it as a toilet. Sometimes moving the dish to another location may help. If not, you’ll just have to change the water more often or switch to a water bottle. The rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t drink it, change it.

Toxic Foods and Things to Avoid

  • avocado
  • chocolate
  • fruit pits
  • apple seeds
  • alcohol/caffeine/smoke/drugs
  • dairy ( birds can’t digest lactose)
  • onion & garlic (only ok in very small amounts)
  • uncooked beans/rice
  • peanuts (they can harbor aspergillus)
  • tomato leaves

Here is a more extensive list of toxic things.

Mammal bacteria is also dangerous. Do not allow your birds to share food with the dog/cat or drink from their water bowls. Likewise, do not allow your birds to take food from your own mouth. If you are going to share food give them their own plate or at least don’t offer them anything your mouth has touched.

© 1997-2016 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

Introducing New Foods

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You’ve read up on what you should feed your bird to keep it healthy. Unfortunately, you and your bird seem to differ on what is healthy. New foods are either ignored or flung aside for the good old seed. Here are a few methods for getting your bird to try new foods.

The “Good Stuff” Dish
This is the best method for getting a seed junkie to try wet foods. First you have to find a non-seed food that your bird already likes. There is always something. Usually even picky birds can’t resist wheat bread or a frozen veggie mix. With small species you can try greens like parsley or carrot tops. Once you find a food other than seed that it will eat offer it the same time every day, in the same area of the cage, in the same dish. The goal is to make the bird associate that dish with something tasty.

After a week or two start offering something else into the dish every other day. You can mix it together with the old food or just offer the new food by itself. Keep this up and pretty soon the bird should eat any item placed in that dish.

Pellets
Several pellet manufacturers recommend mixing pellets in with seed and slowly increasing the proportion. I’ve found this method counterproductive, as many birds think the pellets are inedible and will throw them aside. Instead, offer the pellets in a completely different dish. Birds are more likely to try this new “toy” than something invading their seed bowl. Roudybush also has several other methods of introduction.

Tutoring
Ever notice how pets always want what you’re eating? Birds follow the examples of their peers. If you have one bird that eats pellets you can usually get your others to do the same by letting them watch. Borrow a friend’s bird to help teach yours if you have to. You can also try pretending to eat the pellets.

Looks Like Seed
Some brands of pellets, like Kaytee Exact cockatiel size, look a lot like seed. Other foods that have a seed-like consistency may be tried more readily, like wheat bread, cereal and sprouted seed. When trying to get your bird onto a different diet any food variety is important no matter how small. If you can get them to try one new thing you can gradually get them to try other things as well.

© 1997-2016 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.