Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The proper way to introduce birds

I recently saw a post on a message board where a bird suffered serious injuries because the owner, to introduce a new bird to his existing pet, put the new bird's cage inside the other bird's cage. The existing bird had free reign of his space, while the new bird was in the cage. This is not the proper way to introduce birds to each other!

Many people are under the misconception that as long as the new bird is in a cage, or if they are seperated by a divider, they are safe from harm. This is not true. Birds WILL fight through cage bars!
In addition, loose birds should NEVER be allowed to climb on another cage while there is a bird inside. Birds are very territorial about their space and there is a good chance the bird inside the cage will bite toes, legs, or cause other serious injury to the "intruder" crawling around on their cage.

Here is what I recommend to introduce a new bird:

(1) Quarantine:  The new bird should be taken to the vet for a health check and quarantined for a minimum of 30 days. Not only does this protect your existing bird(s) should a health issue arise, it also slowly acclimates the new bird to the environment with minimal stress to his immune system.

(2) The new bird should be housed in a seperate cage in the same room as the existing bird. How close the new bird should be put to the existing bird's cage depends on the comfort level of the birds. Some birds may need to be kept on opposite sides of the room for weeks or even months, to get used to each other.

(3) Gradually move the cages closer together paying attention to both birds' body language. Be sure neither bird is scared or uncomfortable.

(4) When cages are placed side by side, they should be no closer than 3 inches apart. This way the birds can get a good look at each other, but there is enough space between them to avoid physical contact between the cage bars. Some cockatoos can reach quite far outside the cage (laugh) so keep that in mind as well!

(5) Once you see the birds are comfortable with each other and sitting near each other in their seperate cages, you can introduce them in a NEUTRAL area. A neutral area is an area that neither bird has a claim to. For example, you can take the birds into a spare bedroom and let them play on the bed while you supervise. Or put them on a new play area that neither bird has been on before. Watch carefully for signs of aggression. Pinning eyes, raised feathers, lowered head, slightly open beak and slow movements (stalking) are signs of trouble. Have a towel in your hand so you can quickly remove a bird from a bad situation if needed. It is so important that all introductions be positive. If one bird scares or injures the other, the relationship often cannot be repaired after that.

(6) After you see the birds are getting along in a neutral area, you can introduce them to each other in their normal environment. All interactions should be supervised closely. Again, have that towel ready just in case!

(7) If you plan on housing the birds in the same cage, It is best to have a new, larger cage that neither bird has been in. Short supervised interactions in the new cage should be done at first, with both birds then going back into their own cages until you know they are truly friends and able to be trusted with each other. The cage should be large enough to house two birds comfortably. Two birds in a cramped cage is trouble waiting to happen.

For the majority of pet birds, I recommend they be housed in seperate cages. This reduces the tendency for them to form a mate bond once the birds mature (even different species can form a mate bond). This also allows the owner to handle each bird seperately and have a relationship with each bird. This is especially important with two birds of the same species. There are some exceptions to this rule, as nothing is absolute with birds. But in general, this is a good guideline to follow.

Some birds just do not get along and will never be able to share the same space. Or they may get along on a neutral play area but become aggressive once inside a cage. My yellow nape despises other birds (particularly smaller species) and would cause serious injury if I allowed her contact with another bird. In fact, if I am holding another bird, I have to put that bird down out of sight, wait a few minutes then go pick up my amazon. Otherwise she will bite me!

One also needs to take account the size and behavioral differences between species. An amazon could do serious damage to small conure. Caiques and lories, tend to be aggressive towards smaller birds and should not be trusted unsupervised (some cannot be trusted at all with other birds). They also tend to be more high energy, and their play habits are diffferent. A quaker or grey for example, would not appreciate the high energy antics of a caique trying to jump on them and wrestle!

I hope the above tips were helpful and will possibly prevent injuries in the future. There are many other things to consider when introducing birds that are beyond the scope of this article. Should you need additional advice, you may contact me at and we can set up a consultation.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Money saving tips for bird owners

We are all feeling the crunch of the economy nowadays. We want to do the best we can for our feathered family members, but need to watch our pocketbooks as well. Here are a few tips I have learned over the years that have been beneficial to both my birds and my budget:
1.  Incorporate fresh foods in your bird’s diet. Not only are fresh foods healthy for your bird (and you too), but economical as well. If you enjoy being outdoors, think about planting a garden. My husband has a wonderful garden that provides seasonal fresh foods all year long for us and the birds. At the market, purchase fruits and vegetables in season to take advantage of lower prices. Summer foods that are in season now for example are corn on the cob, cantelope, yellow squash, zucchini, cucumbers, peaches, nectarines, figs, okra, papaya, mango and watermelon. When preparing meals for your family, put aside a few healthy items and incorporate them into your bird’s meals.   
2. Defrosted frozen vegetables are a nice addition to the diet and usually run about 99 cents per pound. We also use defrosted blueberries here which our birds love!
3. Learn to sprout. Serving live, fresh, growing food is one of the best things you can do for your bird. We use a simple wide mouth canning jar with a screen lid and purchase items from the bulk bins of Whole Foods. Pre-mixed sprouting blends are expensive to buy and have shipped. Make your own for a fraction of the cost. Some items you can sprout are hard winter wheat berries, mung beans, lentils, buckwheat groats, hulled sunflower, whole dried green and yellow peas, and safflower.
4. Don’t fall for the hype. There always seems to be some new super food or supplement out there that claims to cure everything. Or someone with lots of seemingly good information, but at a closer look what they are really doing is providing slanted information to sell their products.  Keep your money in your pocket, be careful of what you read and really think before you buy. This also goes for following advice from online message groups which can be dangerous or make your bird sick. If you have a question regarding your bird’s care, it’s best to ask a qualified avian professional such as an experienced breeder or avian vet. Common sense also goes a long way. If you would not feed an item to a young child, it is probably not good for your bird.
5. Utilize your husband! If your husband is handy with tools, you can save a lot of money!  Have him cut toy parts from untreated lumber or safe natural branches, drill some holes and you have a bird toy for a fraction of the cost of store bought. I don’t bother with coloring wood pieces. If I want to add some color, I add some plastic beads or recycled parts from other toys (see number 6). I've also seen some wonderful homemade play areas that were built for a fraction of the cost of storebought. 
6. Recycle parts from old toys. Keep those chains, quick links, beads, wood pieces, etc. and use them to make new toys or to add interesting elements to homemade toys.
7. Stretch your toy budget by getting creative and making your own toys from common household items. Straws, paper cups, coffee filters and small cardboard boxes can make inexpensive, fun bird toys. Visit your local craft store for unpainted popsicle sticks, natural wicker wreaths and baskets, wood pieces, plastic beads, etc. There are lots of ideas for inexpensive, homemade bird toys online.
8. Check out thrift stores. I purchase sheets to cover cages for a fraction of the cost of new at a local thrift store. Some people have also told me they found good deals on bird appropriate baby toys at these places. Just be sure to sterilize these types of items well before giving them to your bird and be sure they are safe.
9. Measure your bird’s food! This technique is used by professional bird trainers and is an effective way to manage your bird’s eating habits. Overfeeding your bird leads to wasted food (and money) and selective eating. Seed diets got a bad rap because of this. Bird owners were feeding their birds a big bowl of seed every day, and the birds would only eat one or two of the items from the mix, which led to malnutrition. Now, I want to make it clear I am not saying to starve your bird!! Slowly start cutting down on the amounts offered and take note of how much your bird ACTUALLY EATS. For example, my Meyers parrot used to be very wasteful with her pellets. When I started offering just enough to cover the bottom of her dish instead of filling the bowl, she stopped wasting them. She always has pellets available, just a lesser amount. When I started measuring the seed portion of my parrotlet’s diet (he gets about a teaspoon a day of a high quality mix), I found he not only ate the entire mix, but started eating his pellets and fresh foods as well, resulting in him CONSUMING a more well rounded diet.
10. Buy some bird skewers!! Oh my gosh, I love my bird skewers! I hang fruit and vegetables on them, and use them as a base to hang homemade toys or to build a new toy from recycled toy parts. These really cut down on food waste since your bird cannot pick up a chunk of food and then drop it through the grate. Some foods that your bird may not touch in his dish, become a fun item to check out when hung on a skewer!
11. If your bird seems “off” get him checked out by a vet. Although you are probably thinking how does spending money at the vet’s office save me money? Bringing your bird in at the first sign of a problem, will save you big in the long run. If a bird is just showing signs of illness, usually this can be taken care quite easily if addressed right away. Perhaps it is a bacterial or respiratory infection starting up or maybe a simple yeast infection. For the cost of an office visit and some medication, you can get a potential problem knocked out right away. This is much less expensive than waiting and then having to bring your bird to an emergency vet clinic in the middle of the night. Or having your bird become so ill that he has to spend several days recovering at the vet’s office: Cha-ching!!
12. Check out your local feed store. The feed stores near me carry quality bird food at very reasonable prices. They also special order food for me. If I tell them it is an item that I buy on a regular basis, they will stock it so they have it in the store when I need it. If you are feeding multiple birds and want to buy food in bulk bags, this is definitely an avenue you should check out.
13. Make arrangements for bird sitting BEFORE you need it! If you know you are going to be traveling, start looking NOW for someone to take care of your bird. I cannot tell you how many last minute phone calls I get around Christmas time from people needing to find a place to board their birds. The best and least expensive option is to have a trusted neighbor, friend or family member either come to your home every day or keep the bird at their home while you’re away. If they have pets too, maybe you can work out an arrangement to swap petsitting services for each other at no cost.
14. Take advantage of websites that offer free shipping. If they have minimum order requirements to qualify for free shipping, plan your orders accordingly. Dr. Foster & Smith offers free shipping on orders of $49 or more. My Safe Bird Store is another great site. They always have some kind of sale going on and free shipping on orders totaling $100 or more. I refer all of my customers to these two sites for bird supplies.
15. Love and attention goes a long way to keeping your bird happy and healthy. Take your bird to the shower with you. Bring him with you to ride in the car when you run errands. Let him hang out with you while you unload the dishwasher or fold clothes. Bring him outside (either in a safe travel cage or teach him to wear a harness) and let him get some fresh air and sunshine. Teach him some fun tricks. Turn on a movie and just relax and cuddle your bird for a while.
I have to say, the longest lived, healthiest, most well adjusted birds I have met did not have owners with lots of money. They did not get high priced special organic foods or have the most expensive toys. They did not live in custom, stainless steel cages. Their owners did not obsess over their care. These birds instead were basically treated like family members. They were fed a simple diet comprising mostly of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy “people food”, a little bit of quality seed mix and maybe some pellets. Some birds got a vitamin supplement sprinkled over their fresh foods or in their water once or twice a week.  If they needed to go to the vet, they went. Nothing special there. But their owners loved them dearly and spent lots of time with them. I think that counts for a lot in regards to our bird’s well being and is something we sometimes forget about in this age of information (more on this in a future article).
Love and common sense doesn’t cost a thing J

Friday, May 16, 2014

The importance of a good avian vet

Just yesterday, I had a medical emergency with one of my birds. I had a green cheek conure, that after laying an usually large clutch of eggs, had one last egg inside her that she could not pass. This is commonly called "egg bound" and birds can die from this if the egg is not passed. The little hen looked exhausted, I knew she needed help. I am very fortunate to live close to my avian vet. I called and told them the problem and let them know I was on the way. The receptionist at the front desk told me they would be ready for me when I got there. They got my bird right in. Since I noticed the bird's distress right away, and did not wait to bring her in, the bird was strong enough to handle the trip to the vet, and the egg extraction procedure. After spending the night, she is now back home with me safe and sound, and is feeling much better. Needless to say, she will be receiving a nice long rest, so we won't be having any new clutches of green cheeks for a good while.

She did have some eggs in the nest, which are in the incubator (including the egg that was extracted at the vet's). So we will see what happens!

So many people, wait until they have an emergency before finding an avian vet for their bird. Well, if you have an emergency, and you are trying to locate an avian vet, you are losing precious time. It is so important to have your name on file with a vet BEFORE something happens. You will have a much easier time getting your bird in if you are a client on file. Even if your bird is healthy, I recommend that my customers bring their birds in occasionally for a well bird check-up or even a grooming, so they have an established relationship with their vet. During such appointments, a vet can detect any potential health issues which have a good chance of being corrected if addressed early on.

Unfortunately, I see all too often on the internet chat boards, people will post that their bird is ill, has a chronic problem, or got injured, and they are asking for medical advice from the group. I always get upset when I see this. Birds lose condition very quickly when they have a health issue. Don't wait for advice, don't try some crazy home remedy, get your bird in to a qualified avian vet ASAP. The earlier you get your bird in, the better chance it will have to recover. A bird that has been sick for a few days, may not have the energy reserves left to handle the stress of a vet visit and medical procedure.

Vet visits are expensive, particularly emergencies. I recommend that bird owners put money aside in an emergency fund just for their birds. Put a little bit in each week. I recommend a reserve of a minimum of $500, $1,000 is even better. You don't want to be in a position of not being able to bring your bird to the vet in a crisis situation because you can't afford it.

There are more and more avian vets available, particularly in and near the larger cities. There is most likely one or more in your area, or within an hour's drive. On my website, I have a link where you can find an avian vet. The link is located near the middle of the page:

Saturday, March 15, 2014

No quick fixes

I have received quite a few calls lately from people who have purchased parrots from less than reputable sources that want quick fix behaviorial advice. When I ask them why they are not contacting the person they purchased the bird from, I am told the person who sold them the bird either will not return their calls, or basically told them it's your problem now. First and foremost I want to say that is so important to purchase a bird from a reputable, knowledgeable person. Either a quality bird store, or a highly recommended breeder is the best way to go. Both of these sources will offer expert advice, a health guarantee and will be available to help you after the sale. Both of these sources also care about their reputation and want to be sure that their customers are satisfied with their purchase.
Customers who purchase my birds, are offered free support for the lifetime of their bird. They are welcome to contact me anytime with questions. I feel it is important that my customers know they can call me for knowledgeable advice if they need it, and not have to resort to going online to a free  "chat board" where the advice is usually questionable at best. As the breeder, I have a lot of insight regarding my babies as I know their genetics, early history and worked with the customer very closely during the sale process. This background information is helpful when a question arises. 

Unfortunately, I do not have this sort of information on birds that I did not raise. To help someone with a bird I am not familiar with, I have to ask many questions, look at pictures (or go to the home if necessary), find out if the bird has seen a vet, etc., etc. It is not enough to tell me "I bought a green bird from some guy two weeks ago and now he is biting me".  It would be extremely irresponsible for me to give advice without obtaining as much background information as possible. Yet, people think I can just rattle off a quick fix and all will be better. Well, when trying to change a behavior, it just doesn't work like that.

Some people are not interested if I cannot offer a quick fix solution immediately. They are also not interested in doing any type of work on the relationship, and/or don't want to pay for a consultation. This saddens me as with just a little bit of work and some time, the relationship could probably be improved substantially. But in retrospect, if these people had purchased a bird from a quality source in the first place, from a seller who takes the time to educate their customers (which may have meant spending a few dollars more), they would not be having these issues in the first place.

If price is your only consideration when shopping for a feathered companion who has the potential to live with you for 20-40 years, then you will get what you pay for. Cheap equals low quality and low service, no matter what you buy. Quality always costs a little more, because more time, quality materials, workmanship and effort has gone into the final product. Quality also lasts. A well bred, healthy bird raised by a knowledgeable, caring professional will have the head start it needs to be a successful companion for many years.

If you do need help, it's better to address the problem sooner rather than later. Habits become more and more entrenched over time. People are often amazed what a few conversations over the phone or a couple of training sessions can accomplish if an issue is addressed quickly.

I had a woman call me several years ago who was given an eclectus parrot. She was not familiar with this species and wanted to learn how to take care of this bird correctly. The bird came to her in terrible shape from a poor diet and inappropriate caging. After one consultation, she called me about a week later and told me how much better her eclectus was doing. She wrapped his perches (which were too big for his feet) with vetwrap so he could grip better and changed his diet to what I recommended. She said he was moving around better, playing more and loving his new diet which included lots of healthy, fresh foods. She was able to handle him easily and they were becoming fast friends. She even sent me pictures so I could see the improvements for myself. Here is an example of how just a little bit of education and effort can make a big difference!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Birds in the Media: Blue & Gold Macaw on "The Millers"

I'm not normally a fan of network tv sitcoms, but the other night, the show "The Millers" aired a re-run episode with a blue and gold macaw in it. The episode name was "Giving the Bird". Obviously this is main stream media, so the bird care information was not exactly 100% correct to say the least, but it was better than what I normally see on tv. The bird's cage was a decent size (although there were no toys in it which I would have liked to have seen, and just one perch). The bird also had a minor plucking issue which I thought was interesting. I wonder if this bird maybe was a pet that belonged to one of the staff members of the show?
The premise of the episode was that the mother gave the bird to a neighbor many years ago, as she felt the children were not responsible enough to handle it's care. She told the kids that it flew out the window. The kids, now adults, were reunited with the bird while trick-or-treating at the neighbor's home (this was a Halloween episode). They blamed the mother for lying to them about the bird, claimed they loved it and told the mother she was wrong to do what she did. Not to be proven wrong,  the mother proceeded to bring the bird back. She told the kids "here is your bird, here is a list of foods and recipes that the bird likes, and have fun as these birds can live up to 60 years".
And here is when the fun started....
The part that made me laugh was when they were complaining about how much work it was to take care of the bird. One character was standing over a pot in the kitchen saying she had to cook "special noodles" for the bird every day (Crazy Corn perhaps?) and if they weren't cooked exactly right, the bird would throw the food out of the cage and get diarrhea. They mentioned how expensive it was to take this bird to the exotic vet and they had to give him eyedrops which cost $200/bottle. They complained that they had to constantly clean around the bird's cage. Then the bird remembered being back in his old home and started repeating the insults the ex-wife used to tell the husband (laugh). There's more, but those were some of the highlights.
In all, yes this show was pretty silly. But the one thing I liked about the episode, was how it showed the viewers that it takes EFFORT and COMMITMENT to take on the care of a bird. A few comments made during the show such as the mother saying "honestly who would give a child a parrot as a pet!", and her mentioning the long potential lifespan were woven into the storyline. Another part showed an empty cage of which it was explained that one of the characters brought the bird upstairs with her to spend time with it.
Although not perfect, this was a pleasant change from what we normally see in mainstream media; a bird in a small cramped cage eating birdseed. I thought it was funny, because as bird owners we don't see the care of our birds as work. But non-bird people look at us and all we do for our birds and think we are crazy! Obviously one of the writers knew someone who owned a bird and incorporated his view of the bird's care routine, and an educational message about responsibility into the episode. I got a nice chuckle from it.
The bird did end up back with the neighbor woman at the end of the episode, so it ended well :-)