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Hi, Our 15 year old male galah began exhibiting some new behaviors on his own during the past year or so that we are interested in understanding.
1. He often drapes hanging toys over his back.
2. He climbs down to his cage's grate, walks to one of the back corners,
"hunkers down" (difficult to explain this, and difficult to come up with
other words to identify it), then begins bobbing his shoulders up and down while making a quiet clucking vocalization. Our impression is that this behavior occurs more often during the evening than during the day.
3. He pumps his wings when we scratch him.

Are 2 and 3 species typical mating behaviors?

BTW: we are sure he's a male based upon 1) surgical sexing, 2) eye color, and 3) total absence of eggs during the ~13 years we've owned him.
Many thanks!
Submitted by: Barry Fass-Holmes

Answered by Jim McKendry:

Hi Barry, Great question! I really appreciate the observational anecdotes, as they help to form a visual picture of what you are experiencing. As a fellow keeper and keen observer of Galahs, I share your intrigue into the behaviours you have described. Your observations provide the platform for me to share a few insights into Galah behaviour from my own experiences. This is certainly an amazing and challenging Cockatoo to share your life with! Here are a few thoughts of mine that you might hopefully find useful in understanding the behaviours of interest in your Galah...

Observation 1: Draping hanging toys over his back
The functional reason for this behaviour is open to hypothesis, and there are potentially a number of reasonable suggestions that could be made to explain it. This behaviour is not exclusive to Galahs in pet or aviary environments and similar behavioural interactions in captive enclosures with enrichment objects might be observed with a range of parrot species. One consistent link that I have noted in my experience is that species we observe doing this are most often those that naturally engage in physical pair bonding through tactile interaction. My thought is to consider the lack of conspecific or compatible partner interaction and how the physical interactions with the hanging toys perform a functional substitute for tactile stimulation. Physical interactions, close spatial orientation and even `play’ between wild Galahs suggest that when we observe Galahs performing behaviours such as draping a hanging toy over their back in a captive environment, we may be seeing the Galah seeking to engage with objects in its environment that serve as a replacement stimulus in the absence of natural stimuli. Could the action of draping the hanging toys over the back be providing a substitute for the lack of allopreening and close physical contact your Galah would otherwise direct towards and receive from a compatible partner? It’s possible – but there may be other explanations so keep observing and keep critically thinking ☺


Observation 2: `Hunkering down’ in the corner of the cage
This is another behaviour that might have a number of possible antecedents and plausible functions. One thought I have though is based on actually having spent the past few weeks observing my own Galah pair go through some fascinating stages in the preparation of their nest. Male Galahs are highly active in the preparation and performance of nest maintenance, defence of the nesting site, display of ownership and even incubation of the eggs. This can perhaps lead to us observing behaviour in male Galahs that we might normally consider representative of `female’ behaviour. Is it possible that the behaviour of your male Galah can be explained as `nesting’ behaviour? It’s certainly plausible, but to make a definite call I’d really need to observe the behaviour first hand in the context of the environment he is in to understand your specific situation better. Once again – I’m inclined to consider behaviour such as this as a redirection of natural behaviours in an unnatural environment. It’s also worth noting that much `normal’ behaviour can become exaggerated, repetitive and potentially lead to stereotypical categorisation when we keep Cockatoos in unnatural environments.

Observation 3: `Pumping wings’ when being scratched
This sort of behaviour can be commonly observed in juvenile Galahs soliciting attention from parents, but wing pumping is also retained into adulthood as a behavioural response during mutual feeding between mature, bonded Galahs. Scratching him potentially provides a similar stimulus and results in behaviour that essentially communicates receptivity to the physical interaction and a cue for it to continue. Keep in mind that preening Cockatoos (and a variety of parrot species) over the back, particularly the lower back, can be sexually stimulating. Male Galahs will `tread’ on the back of the female as she lowers her posture, arches her back and accepts him as he climbs on to her for copulation. The behavioural interactions between the pair are fascinating to observe. The pair we have here regularly copulate throughout the year – to be honest, ours are almost embarrassing in their `Bonobo like’ regular indulgences in copulative behaviour!

All up I’d say your behavioural observations are 3 for 3 as representative of a Galah engaging in physical interactions with his environment associated with the need for tactile stimulation, and to some degree may be indicative of some forms of mate solicitation and breeding behaviour. When we think about it, what could be more `normal’ for Galah in his prime? ☺ If you would like to depth your understanding of the natural, wild behaviour of Galahs then I can recommend a great book that encompasses the most in-depth natural study of the species. The title is `The Behavioural Ecology of the Galah’ by Ian Rowley. Whilst difficult to find sometimes, it can usually be located at http://www.andrewisles.com/AndrewIsles/index.cfm This is a great bookstore for rare books on birds, wildlife and the natural history of animals. They post throughout the world!

You’ve done really well to be still engaging with a companion Galah after 13 years and should be congratulated on having obviously built a lasting and positive relationship with him. Good luck with your Galah in the future and thankyou for being a World Parrot Trust member.

Kind Regards from `Down Under’,
Jim McKendry
Parrot Behaviour & Enrichment Consultations

filed under: Behaviour and Training

A friend of mine's 20-ish yr old Moluccan was just diagnosed with epithelial neoplasia of the humerus. The diagnosis was made by the U. of Davis in CA. Due to the loss of blood and breakdown of the bone they are recommending amputation of the wing and have stated that this type of cancer is very aggressive. While there is no evidence that it has metastasized his prognosis is not good. So now my friend has some very difficult choices to make concerning the quality of life her beloved bird faces. She is trying to absorb this devasating news and locate as much information as she can on this type of
cancer so that she can make an informed decision as to what the future holds for them. Do you have any advice as to questions she should be asking her vet, the oncologist and the team at the University?

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Your questions are fair, and intentions are good with this question. Unfortunately, without any more detailed specific information, it would be impossible if not quite misleading for me to provide you with specific answers about the patient in question. Here are some important thoughts to consider though as you help your friend muddle through these issues:

There are a number of different types of cancers that can be found in this area. Epithelial neoplasia is not an accurate enough description, unfortunately. Squamous cell carcinoma, metastatic air sac carcinoma, Osteosarcoma, Fibrosarcoma, etc all would be potentially more accurate descriptions with which to work with. Each of these tumor types has certan behavioral tendencies. Metastasis, overall, with most of these tumors in birds is rare. Treatment options are limited by the size and type of tumor, the location and degree of involvement / invasiveness, the specific type of surgical removal or debulking procedure being considered, the potential benefit for surgical removal, the risk of surgical removal, the potential for non-surgical treatments such as radiation, chemotherapy, or combinations of these options. The overall health and stability of the patient also influences the treatment options being considered. In addition, the behavior of the bird and its interaction in the home environments influence treatments - as a wild and comparatively unhandleable bird may suffer from a much lower quality of life with a wing removed when compared to a pet bird that can be trained and helped to adapt to its new condition(s).

Best suggestions: Sit down and have a talk with the diagnosing clinicians. What is the EXACT diagnosis? What are ALL of the treatment options and relative prognosis / risk with each? What are the relative potential costs with each of these? What do you feel is the best, knowing my bird and myself? (IE: What would YOU do). This last question is one gathering the professional / personal opinions, not necessarily having to be a solid guideline, but does provide helpful information to hear.

If surgery is to be considered - What is the procedure, exactly? How many of these procedures has the surgeon done? Are there other opinions or surgeons that may offer me a better potential success rate?

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Oak trees grow over my aviary. Acorns fall through. The poultry and birds generally ignore them. The Lesser Sulphur Crested Perdy is climbing upside down across the roof and pulling acorns in and eating them. Can she overeat them? Ahe does not seem to pick them off the ground.

Dot

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dorothy, acorns are a safe food for psittacines. There are many instances of wild parrots and feral parrots eating acorns, i.e. Thickbilled Parrots, Quakers, Amazons.

T'would not be unusual for your cockatoo to prefer to eat the acorns right off the limb--foraging is an instintive and fun pastime for captive hookbills. Besides, if you watch her carefully, she may in fact also be eating the attachment nodes on the acorn stems, a nutritious and preferred part of some fruit and nut clusters. We have had lorileets that did not like certain berries when they were placed in a food bowl, but the pets would gorge on the same berries if they were on the bush.

In addition, those acorns that drop on the ground are perhaps not at the best ripeness for your cockatoo's taste and trace mineral needs. He may be choosing younger nuts that are still attached because of their tannin level, much as our amazon flock will like semi-ripe fruit or seeds instead of the fully mature ones.

Encourage Perdy, I do not think an adult savvy cockatoo can eat too much of a certain food item as long as it is getting a fully rounded and complete diet (including occasional mineral grit) from which to choose. Besides, wild-crafted foods are one of the optimum offerings we can give our birds. Try picking some branches with lots of little accorn buds and early-set nuts, and offering them to your smaller psittacines. You may be surprised at the reception!

filed under: Health and Nutrition

We are a retired couple living in Mexico for the past 8 years. Six years ago we rescued a Military Macaw that was being kept in very poor conditions. We do not know the age of the bird but we do know that she is a female (DNA sexing). Almost a year ago the macaw was attacked by a dog and received a head
injury from being slammed on the floor. It seemed touch and go for awhile, but she seems to be recovering well. She has never recovered the strength
in her beak that she had previously but her cooordination seems much better. On that occasion she was seen several times by a vet here who
prescribed anti-inflamatories (intramuscular and oral) As I say, she seems to be better from this incident, but for the past several months she has
been scratching at her ears. We thought it was due to new feathers that were irritating and itching, but then she started with the "yawning" for
lack of a better description of her actions. She looks like someone trying to clear their middle ears on an airplane. This led me to have a closer
look at her ears and I found that one of the ear canals was closed and seemed to be plugged with a crusty substance. One canal was closed more
than the other side as well as having this crusty substance present. I have spoken with a vet from the government wildlife rescue agency in
Guadalajara and he recommended dosing her with ENROFLOXACINA which I have come to find out is a very strong antibiotic used in the avian industry. He
suggested that long-term use might provoke liver damage, so I am hesitant to use it for very long. After ten days of treatment (4 drops of ENROFLOXACINA
in 100 ml of water), she seems possibly somewhat better but the ear canal remains very small (not completely closed as before)with no encrustations.
In all other respects she seems fine. Her feathers look great and she seems happy. Does this sound like the correct treatment for what appears to be an ear
infection? Do you think that the blow to the head could have precipitated the ear infection?

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Lots to talk about here, but challenges in detail are a real issue without actually physically evaluating the patient in question.

Ear infections, overall, are comparatively uncommon in parrots. It is possible that the traumatic injury could have predisposed to this problem. In reality, there is no cytologic evaluation, culture information or factual solid confirmation of the presumption of infection here. Crusty material can accumulate in the ear canals when there is inadequate vitamin A in the diet, when foreign material gets into the ear, when secondary infection gets rolling, and secondary to trauma and even clots of blood accumulating in the area.

Enrofloxacin is a very broad spectrum antibiotic. There is no long term adverse effects with this drug's use on the liver of parrots that is known. Water-based medication with this antibiotic in macaw species has only been published in the red-shouldered macaw (ara nobilis). (J Avian Med Surg, December 200; 286-290, 19 refs). In this study, it was shown that 200 mg/liter of water was effective at maintaining plasma concentrations, which would/should only be helpful for known and susceptible bacterial infections. I do not know what concentration is being achieved at 4 drops per 100 ml of water for your bird.

What I would suggest is that your original veterinarian be asked to have a look at the bird and its ears carefully, possibly even with magnification. Retained material in the ears should be carefully removed, and possible bacterial culture samples taken from this area. At the same time, a careful oral examination is appropriate, as it is possible that the ear abnormalities are the result of more significant soft tissue trauma and skull boney damage.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

How can I stop my African Grey viciously biting whenever I go near him? He is hand reared but has become very nasty.
Submitted by: Liz Bradford

Answered by Jim McKendry:

G’day Liz,

Your question represents a real challenge – for both of us! While I haven’t got a lot of information to work with, it’s a great opportunity to highlight some key concepts that any parrot owner in your situation can apply.

Let’s start with what’s actually missing from your question. When managing encounters that result in an aggressive behavioural response towards us, we really need to carefully analyse the `context’. For behaviour as overt as aggression or biting, there is always a context that we can observe and identify. Being able to describe this context is going to be the first stage in developing some strategies to improve your relationship with your African Grey. So, how de we go about identifying the context for the biting behaviour?

Using a `behaviour analysis’ approach (sounds technical – but stick with me), we can easily identify what might be stimulating the behaviour and how your interactions with your African Grey may also be influencing the behaviour. This approach challenges us to focus specifically on what we can observe. The next time that you encounter aggressive behaviour from your African Grey, try describing the following...

A: The `antecedent’ – the stimulus in the environment that sets the behaviour up to occur. Ask yourself - `What happens immediately before you observe aggression or receive a bite from your African Grey?’
B: The `behaviour’ – what we observe in direct response to the antecedent stimulus. Ask yourself - `What does the aggressive behaviour look like? What are the visual and verbal indicators that you can observe that help you describe and label the behaviour as aggression?’
C: The `consequence’ – what occurs in the environment immediately after the behaviour. Ask yourself - `What has happened as a result of aggressive encounters with your African Grey in the past?’

Put those three together - `antecedent’, `behaviour’ and `consequence’ and you’ll be well on your way to understanding a context for the aggressive behaviour. Aggressive behaviour always serves a functional purpose, so writing down some information following the A-B-C guide described above will help you to clarify the function that the behaviour is serving. The physical act of biting is usually the end stage of a set of preceding communication cues that we have failed to respond to. As an example, if the body language of your African Grey didn’t achieve the function of removing you from its environment, then the next stage along that continuum is progressing to a bite. Challenging yourself to analyse the behaviour from an observable context will help you to identify the key visual cues that suggest the approach you are taking, and the expectations you have, may need reworking.

Judging from your question, it seems like you might be experiencing the behaviour at most times that you try to interact with your African Grey. This is a situation where a wonderful analogy, that I first heard used by avian trainer Steve Martin, applies itself beautifully. Steve refers to a `trust account’ that we build up with our birds. Deposits are made via interactions with our birds that are positively reinforcing and build strong associations between the delivery of reinforcers and ourselves. The more opportunities we encounter where rewards and interactions that are valued by our parrot are delivered, the more deposits we can make into that trust account. The flip side of course is that withdrawals can also be made. With pet parrots and aggressive behaviour, this often occurs when we fail to sensitively respond to the visual cues, that we should know from past experiences, indicate that our feathered friend isn’t likely to be receptive to stepping onto our hand or interacting with us. The challenge for you at this initial stage in your work with your African Grey is to start making some deposits into that trust account.

Traditional approaches to managing aggression and biting behaviour relied on attempting to dominate the parrot. Choosing a dominance approach is not an effective behaviour management solution for working with aggressive parrots. Attempting to force handling interactions with an aggressive parrot can result in effectively teaching your parrot that it needs to bite harder to get the aversive stimulus (your hand) away from it. In combination with this will be a breakdown in the relationship between you and your bird. This represents a major withdrawal from the trust account and can result in many consequences, the most common being the establishment of either fear responses, or a further escalation in aggression by your parrot towards you when you initiate interactions with it. If you have reached the point where your parrot has inflicted a bite then you need to take responsibility for the bite and start focusing on developing your awareness of what you can change in your behaviour and how you can rearrange the environment to avoid a bite in the first place.

Where aggressive behaviours get out of control and become a serious issue is when we have failed to maintain positive reinforcement based training with the parrot. Consistently implemented positive reinforcement based interactions help to establish an environment that increases the potential for the human carer to be viewed as stimuli in the environment that offers highly valued resources. Achieving this shift in stimuli association provides an alternative influence on the behaviour of our pet parrot. As an example, responding to handling cues such as `step up’, ultimately needs to have a greater consequential reinforcement value to the parrot than standing on top of a cage and biting a presented hand. The learning environment for our parrot needs to be set up to provide clear behavioural alternatives, so that;
• Our parrot has choice, and therefore is an active participant in the decision making processes occurring in its environment;
• It develops a relationship between the behavioural choice it makes and the consequential reinforcement it receives for that behaviour and;
• We respect the choice that our parrot makes and resist the temptation to enforce handling when it is obvious that our parrot is not receptive to us.

If the choices that your parrot is making are not achieving a behavioural goal that you have set then it is up to you to re-evaluate your expectations, improve your reinforcement schedule for the desired behaviour and perhaps most importantly, re-think how you have arranged the environment to set your parrot up to succeed with the highest potential to present the behaviours you seek. Managing the feeding schedules of our parrots obviously provides opportunities to deliver highly valued primary reinforcers that can often help to redirect the behaviour of a parrot that has started to display aggression in specific contexts within the home environment. Rather than providing all free feed opportunities at one time, or within a single enclosure, it may be more effective to deliver different food types, at different times of the day, in different contexts, and to reinforce different behavioural goals. This may help to improve the level of motivation required to interact with you and help you to capture and positively reinforce behaviours that are alternative to or incompatible with biting.

In general, avoiding and managing aggression can be achieved via the following...
• Developing a sensitive awareness of non-verbal, visual cues that may indicate that it is time to step back and away from a potential confrontation.
• Appreciating that an individual may not be receptive to the sort of social interactions that we expect from `pets’. Therefore we may be challenged to help them learn that social interactions with us can be valued via the delivery of positively reinforcing consequences for desirable behaviour.
• Minimising handling and preening interactions that promote the sexual bonding of the parrot with one individual in the household.
• Establishing feeding and enrichment schedules that provide opportunities for the parrot to present behaviours that are an alternative to or incompatible with biting and territorial aggression.
• Continually re-evaluating how you have arranged the environment of the bird so that it is best set up to succeed with behavioural choices that you desire.

The above only touches on some key behaviour management principles that might need more elaboration for you to start really applying them well. Check out the incredible articles that the WPT has collated in the Reference Library. You will find some amazing insights into better managing your biting African Grey by downloading and reading these. To further depth your understanding of these concepts there are a number of brilliant courses, workshops and learning resources that you can investigate. A perfect place to start your educational journey is via engaging in the `Living and Learning with Parrots’ online course coordinated by Dr. Susan Friedman and her dedicated tutors. For more information visit http://www.behaviorworks.org. If you really want to get out there and like to learn with a `hands-on’ approach then consider the Companion Parrot Workshops coordinated by Steve Martin of Natural Encounters Inc. For more information visit http://www.naturalencounters.com. If you’re an `armchair’ learner then I would highly recommend that anyone managing aggression and biting from their pet parrot purchase `The Parrot Problem Solver: Finding Solutions to Aggressive Behaviour’ by Barbara Heidenreich. This is an excellent starting point for learning all about recovering relationships with aggressive parrots and can be purchased right here from the WPT Store!

Kind Regards from `Down Under’,
Jim McKendry
Parrot Behaviour & Enrichment Consultations

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Dear Glenn, I understand you're something of a red hot chili pepper fanatic - the spicy kind, not the band - and I enjoyed the news story (http://www.baynews9.com/content/36/2007/8/20/281622.html?title=The+hottest+pepper+of+all+) and video (What's making Chef's Kitchen's Roy De Jesus cry?) about your aspirations to grow the world's hottest peppers.

Watching that news guy in tears put me in stitches!

As you are someone who has clearly thought long and hard about parrots and their diets, I wonder if you could explain why parrots like peppers somuch?

Perhaps more importantly, are spicy peppers bad for parrots to eat even if they adore them? Can they give them indigestion or are they likely to keep them parasite free? Do wild parrots eat spicy things, or just bitter and astringent things? Are red peppers a good compliment to a pellet & seed diet, especially from a vitamin standpoint?

Ok, that's more than one question, I'll stop there and look forward to your answer, thanks!

Answered by Glenn Reynolds:

Thanks, You hit on one of my favorite topics, hot peppers or as most chili-heads call them "Chilies". I guess in the vernacular of the chili-head peppers are like bell peppers and anything with heat is considered a chili. I really enjoyed doing the news story. They had been bugging me for weeks, so I finally relented and did the story. It was a blast. The video doesn't even start to illustrate the pain that Roy de Jesus was in after eating one of my Bhut Jolokia peppers. In fact the one he ate was only about 1/3 the size of some of the larger ones on my plants.

Well enough about that. I will try to answer your questions. I have owned parrots for 30 years now, and they have always eaten chilies. Back when I purchased my first parrot formulated/pelleted diets were not yet available; therefore, most everyone fed their parrots the seed diets that were on hand. Most of those diets contained chilies.

I've never been able to find the proof to back it up but have always read that parrots don't have the ability to sense the heat in peppers. Peppers get their heat from a chemical called capsaicin that was most likely an evolutionary defense of the plant to protect its fruit from predators. Parrots have very few taste buds and are considered not to have a very good sense of taste or smell, so with a limited number of taste buds it would make sense that they may not be able to taste the heat in peppers. Furthermore, a minimal sense of smell may further explain their lack of ability to taste the heat. If you have ever eaten a really hot pepper like the ones I prefer you will know that half of the sensation is in the vapors collected in your nostrils and up the sinuses as you take that first bite. Some of the hotter ones can almost take your breath away. Many people will choke on the vapors long before the heat gets to them.

Chilies may exacerbate indigestion but they will not give you indigestion. They are actually alkaline not acidic. Currently the National Institute of Health is studying using capsaicin to cure bleeding ulcers. I have seen a lot of various bugs and worms get into my chilies and eat away, so I don't think they will keep your bird parasite free.

I wouldn't think many wild parrots live in geographical regions where chilies grow. It is thought that chilies originated in the Americas and were then cultivated all over the world as far back as 6000 years ago. There are very few overlaps of wild growing chilies and wild parrots in nature.

I think red peppers whether hot or not should be included in your parrot's diet. Red peppers are full of beta carotene (a precursor to vitamin A), and vitamin C. A maintenance diet for an adult bird should contain between 2500 IU/kg to 5000 IU/kg vitamin A daily and only reaches a toxic level somewhere between 20 and 100 times that amount. It is well known that vitamin A is very important for vision, but it is also important for proper growth and disease resistance. A healthy bird doesn't need an external source of vitamin C since they synthesizes it in the gut, but an external source is considered necessary for juvenile growing parrots and any parrot that is compromised from disease.

In humans there is a great deal of research going on with capsaicin and most of those studies are being done by reputable institutions. As stated above NIH is looking at capsaicin as a treatment for bleeding ulcers. They are also researching its natural anti-inflammatory activities for pain relief and for the treatment of arthritis. Other studies indicate it can help in weight loss, control blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and control glucose levels in diabetics. There are also indications that it can prevent colon cancer. In India they eat chilies before they go outside and work. They claim it reduces the effects of the hot sun. Sure, if your mouth is burning up who is going to notice that it's 100 degrees outside?

That said I should be a pretty healthy person and my birds should be pretty healthy too. I eat something hot every day of my life and so do my birds. I carry a small vile of ground pure red habanero in my pocket most everywhere I go. My birds don't have pockets, so they rely on me to give them their daily dose. I have some minor arthritis in my hands, but when I am picking chilies the pain goes away for days. I can't figure out how to get my birds to go out and help me pick peppers. Maybe I need to consult with Steve Martin on that one.

BTW since that news story aired I have sold a ton of hot sauce and my orders for pepper plants will keep me busy for months.

I hope this helps you out, Glenn

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I am extremely worried about one of my masked Lovebirds, Pipsqueak who will be 8 years old on 10th October. Earlier this year she started to breath
quickly and deeply but with no real tail bobbing. A course of Batryl made no difference. In herself she is well eating well interacting with her
friends and above all spending alot of time out with me. My excelent Avian Vet Dr Alex Maute of Southbeech Veterinary Surgery in Essex then tried her
on a diuretic, no change. We then took the risk of anesthetic to do x rays and bloods and other than the slightest possibility of enlargement to the
liver, nothing. He then treated her for Aspergillosis with Itrafungol and also milk thistle, again no change. After flying around she breathes more
heavily and tends to have a sleep but otherwise in herself she still appears to be well. However the closesness that I have with her, indeed I
rferer to her as my child, causes me to know that all is not well. She has an excelent diet and living conditions. Please can you help as I am
desperate not to loose her, if neccessary I will take her anywhere in the country if you think that someone could help.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

This is not an easy set of questions to answer, unfortunately. What you really need to get established as soon as possible for your ill lovebird is a succinct diagnosis and clear treatment intervention plan. For the most part, what you seem to have here is at best some presumptive diagnoses, and quit a bit of symptomatic treatments being delivered.

You may ask your veterinarian for a referral to an established specialist in avian medicine and surgery, to try to help you best get to the root of things as soon as possible. One option to consider for you would be at least a phone call to a colleague of mine in Swindon-Wilts, UK. His name is Dr Neil Forbes, and the telephone number there is 44-1793-603800. As an established diplomate in the European College of Avian Medicine and Surgery (ECAMS), Neil should be able to help guide you and/or your local veterinarian towards some diagnostic answers.

Best of luck for you and your bird!

filed under: Health and Nutrition

My Question:
my 5 year old (ducorps) cockatoo, has recently started to eat wood (dowel and wooden beads) rope, plastic. Last time he was in the carrier he ate the paint of the carrierdoor, he won't be in there anymore. I founded out that every day there is wood in his droppings. I don't react to it, he needs things to play with, for the rope I only use hennep rope or sisal, and the toys I make for him are made are made of supplies of childrentoys like the beats. How can I break through this behaviour?

renate koerten

Answered by Steve Martin & Staff:

Hello Renate,
Thank you for this interesting question. It is obvious that you are a good provider and caregiver for your little ducorps cockatoo (one of my favorite birds years ago was a ducorps). I appreciate that you take the time and effort to provide him with safe enrichment items. However, parrots can sometimes make even the safest enrichment items dangerous.

As you know parrots may chew on almost anything they get their beaks on. There are probably many purposes for this chewing, only some of which we can guess at. Chewing and tearing apart items is a great way for a parrot to play with and investigate an object. Wild parrots often chew on branches, leaves, husks, etc., shredding them into small pieces that they drop to the ground. I believe chewing on wood helps a parrot keep its beak in good shape. I often give my parrots things to chew on for enrichment, exercise, and to help keep their beaks clean and well-coped. In fact, I have never had to cope, or trim, a parrot's beak in over 40 years of keeping parrots.

I think it is very rare for a parrot to eat and pass wooden pieces. As you already know, parrots often chew apart objects such as wood, rope, plastic, etc. Most of the time these items are just chewed into small pieces spread over the bottom of the cage. You mentioned that there is wood in your bird's droppings. Is it possible that tiny pieces of the wood he has chewed have fallen on the bottom of the cage and become mixed with his feces? I have had a few shocking discoveries myself when I found feces mixed in with tiny pieces of wood. At first, I thought the bird had passed the pieces of wood, but on further investigation it became apparent that the feces were deposited on top of the pieces of wood and made it look like the bird passed the wood. However, if your bird is actually passing wood, then I believe it is a serious situation that needs to be addresses quickly before the bird injures itself.

The first step should be a consultation with a veterinarian. You might pose your question to one of the avian veterinarians on this site to get their opinion. However, you can never go wrong taking your bird to a qualified avian veterinarian for an examination.

It is possible that increasing the activity level of your bird can have a positive impact on his wood chewing/eating behavior. I am happy to see you have hemp and sisal rope for your bird. I have not used hemp, but I know my birds do very well with the sisal rope. It is natural and safe for the birds. It gives them lots of exercise and plenty of enrichment. I suggest you try to set up an area where the bird has plenty of room to exercise outside of the cage. Ideally it would be an area where the bird can climb around on natural tree branches, sisal rope, etc. These play areas are great for birds when the owner is there to monitor their behavior. However, if left alone a parrot might get off of this play area and wander around the house and get into trouble. That's why I recommend a very large cage. Most of our parrots are in cages that are about four to six feet wide, by six to eight feet deep, and seven feet high. A cage this size can offer enough room for a parrot to fly from one end to the other and still leave room for plenty of toys, branches and other enrichment items. The cages we use come from a company called Corner's Limited. This company makes cages mostly for zoo animals. Their cages are custom designed and usually less expensive than even smaller sized parrot cages.

Also, I suspect your bird is more likely to chew and eat wood when you are not around. So, the challenge is to find a way to entertain the bird when you are gone. I often recommend to people who have a single bird that they leave alone while they are at work all day that they consider getting a companion parrot for their bird. Even if you do not put the two birds together, they can offer each other some level of comfort just being in adjacent cages. These days there are many parrots available for adoption through various rescue centers, sanctuaries, etc. Wild parrots are rarely seen alone. They are almost always in groups, or with at least with a companion. I suspect a single parrot in someone's house would feel much more comfortable with another bird around. I also suspect a bird that is comfortable will be less likely to exhibit aberrant behavior, like eating wood. If you do decide to get a partner for your parrot and want to house them together, be careful to take out any boxes, or other dark areas that they might want to try and nest in. Also be very careful about how you introduce the birds to one another. It is always best to take it slow and very cautious when introducing new birds to each other. Lastly, keep in mind that there is a chance that two birds together could develop a strong bond that might influence the relationship you currently have with your bird. So, if you do decide to get another bird it will be important to keep your relationship with both birds as strong as possible. You can do this with lots of interactions with the individual birds and plenty of positive reinforcement.

I hope these suggestions have given you some ideas and maybe some strategies to try with your bird.

All my best,

Steve Martin

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Dear Glenn, I've got two plants in my yard growing up along my aviary which I can't find on the "Toxic Plants" or "Safe Plants" lists. Can you help? They are the Princess Flower (AKA Glory Bush) and Mandevilla. The aviary was just erected and, as soon as I put some cockatiels in it, the birds started eating the leaves of the Princess Flower right away. It didn't seem to bother them, but they haven't touched it since that day. I have 17 birds, all different kinds of adoptees, and I don't want to risk their health.

Thank you very much for the service you offer to the WPT.

Cindi Eppers

Answered by Glenn Reynolds:

Hello Cindi, Great question. This one took some research. Please keep in mind that various plants may or may not be toxic to different animal species; therefore, I don't know that there is any definitive answer to this.

The Princess Flower or Glory Bush is in the Family: Melastomataceae, Genus: Tibouchina, Species: urvilleana. I cannot find anything that suggests this family of plants is toxic. Unfortunately I can't find anything that states it's not toxic either. Everything I can find states "unknown", so I would be cautious. My feeling is if uncertain don't take the chance.

The Mandevilla is in the Family: Apocynaceae, Genus Mandevella, with many different species. Notice "cynaceae" in the family name suggesting cyanide. This entire family is listed as toxic to humans. Oleander is included in this family. Depending on species the toxins are found in anything from the root and milky sap to all parts of the plant. The milky sap is listed as a skin irritant. Toxins and reactions from some species and various parts of the plant are: Cathartic; causing vomiting, self limiting; Glycosides causing increased pulse and temperature, dilated pupils, sweating, cold extremities, mild diarrhea, and death; Cardiac Glycosides causing burning of the mouth, drowsiness, diarrhea, vomiting, heart failure, and death.

Obviously you want to remove the Mandevilla from your aviary area and as stated above I would be cautious of the Princess Flower unless you can find something stating that it is not toxic.

Glossary:
Cathartic - Medicine or substance causing emptying of the bowels

Glycosides:
Anthraquinone glycosides - Hydrolysis yields aglycones (A nonsugar compound that is produced from the reaction of a glycoside with water. Alcohols and phenols are aglycones.) which are purgatives causing vomiting and diarrhea
Cardiac glycosides - Steriods affectiong heart function
Saponin glycosides - Hydrolysis yields a saponin (soap like substance) which has a bitter taste and is irritating to mucous membranes and may destroy red blood cells

filed under: Health and Nutrition

The red front macaw is becoming more and more popular in captivity yet there is little information on them whether it be in books or the internet....I am aware a Hyacinth macaw has a different diet than other macaws but what about the red front??? Since they really have'nt been around as long as the Greenwing, Blue & Gold, etc etc does anyone really know if they require a different diet than the others???

I wish someone with years of experience with them would sit and share the information they have obtained throughout the years including diet, personality, etc etc...I have had Sara for little over 2 years now and she is just a joy...

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

In a pet bird setting, there really should not be any specific dietary requirements for the red fronted macaw, Ara rubrogenys. A base diet of a commercial formulated product, some degree of controlled seed intake, and fresh vegetables should serve as your foundation.

As you get to know your bird, there will be many behaviors that will be individually and possibly species-specific that you will come to know. Probably most importantly, sound husbandry, training and behaivoral guidance and some degree of preventative health management will be important to make sure to have in place.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have a 28yr old Red Lored Amazon, could be wild caught we don't know for sure. His weight fluctuates as much as 30-40g per year. Is this normal? He is currently coming off of being hormonal and molting although not heavily and his appetite is not as good as previous times of the year. I realize coming out of breeding season that his body is telling him not to eat as much, but the vet feels his ideal weight is 500g and he is currently at 470-485g depending on what he ate the day before.

I have read but don't remember where, that wild caught birds tend to be more on the lean side in captivity than their handfed counterparts, is this true? He has been at this weight before but I don't remember if it was after breeding season and during a molt. He was just at the vet 2 weeks ago for his yearly checkup and everything was fine, phosphorous was slightly low but everything else was in normal range. 30g grams just seems like a big weight shift to me and I'm concerned. He is acting normal and playing and preening as usual so maybe I'm worried for nothing. Just wondering if this is part of the normal cycle for amazons, my other two birds, nanday and lovebird do not shift weight like this during the year? Thanks so much.

Janna

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Fluctuation of more than 5% of body weight is not typical. Most often, gains in weight will be related to increases in muscle mass (improved physical conditioning) or fat.

Realistically, your bird's optimal weight would be that weight where the bird has good and even pectoral muscle mass present, and no apparent subcutaneous fat present at the abdomen or lateral flank skin regions. If you were to dampen the feathers in this area with isopropyl alcohol, you can see the skin very clearly for evaluaton.

Breeding season and hormonal cyclicity for the most part in parrots is strongly influenced by the environment, most of which we have control over. Dietary caloric intake is a strong reproductive stimulus for many parrots - and I am a bit suspicious that the hormonal cyclicity in part is being influenced in your bird by total calories being consumed or made available per day.

Most of the Red Lored Amazons in our database that were not obese seemed to range from 390-450 grams or so, and most of the birds that were 500 grams or over had the clinical observation of fat present and a diagnosis to some degree of obesity noted. Although your individual bird may be larger than most, and may actually be just a big guy - I am a bit suspicious that he may be overweight.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I am currently a biology student and have a great desire to gear my career toward parrot conservation and research. With this in mind, I was wondering what suggestions you had as far as getting experience in this particular field. Whether it be through interns or strictly volunteer positions, I really want to get my foot in the door as soon as possible and wanted to know what the best way to do this was. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks!

Sandra

Answered by Jamie Gilardi:

Dear Sandra,

You’ve asked and excellent, if difficult, question. As you know, parrots live in parts of the world which are generally quite different from where you’re likely to be (I’m assuming USA based on your ‘foot in the door’ comment). So field work is likely to involve different climates, different cultures, and nearly always different languages.

Some people are really interested in a particular species or region or habitat type and that interest should probably be a guide for where to get started. Find out who is working in that area or on that species in the wild, looking as broadly as possible, then start communicating as much as you can. What you’re after is pulling together enough background such that you can plan and carry out a trip to the area which will open your eyes to the realities and opportunities awaiting you on the ground there.

So, if you’re interested in macaws in Central America for example, you might want to spend some time in the Yucatan and then also in Costa Rica. If you make contact with researchers in both places, ask if you can visit and possibly volunteer on their projects, then line up a trip itinerary which will work to spend time in each area/project of interest.

When you get there, you’ll likely get an immediate feel for whether the place, people, language, habitat, etc. are a good fit for you. Some people get into a rainforest for the first time and they find the humidity and darkness to be incredibly uncomfortable, others find it to be comforting, beautiful, and rich. Of course, lots of parrots live in dry forests, or not even forests at all, and you may find that such open areas are either boring or spectacularly beautiful … depends on you!

The same issues hold for the species in question, your fellow researchers, and the local cultures – you may click, you may not, and the only real way to know is to go see for yourself. You may find that the cockatoo in your bedroom which is endlessly fascinating, is incredibly hard to see in the wild. Maybe just when you finally do see one, it flies off over a huge canyon and disappears over a mountain on the horizon.

When you do find a place which you find comfortable and exciting, keep your mind open about study subjects and questions. It may be that you really love this one particular macaw, but in fact, the more common parakeets in the area are much more easy to observe, and they’re clearly up to some interesting things worth studying. It might not even be a parrot, or not even a bird you end up studying … at that point, especially if you’re doing graduate work, you should focus on what you find to be intellectually most stimulating, challenging, and tractable, such that you become a great researcher in the end.

One thing to bear in mind is that most people with active research projects can always use functional people who are willing to volunteer and to really help out. But they also don’t have time to baby sit and they don’t want to deal with people who are just figuring out that the rainforest is rainy and sometimes you get wet! If you approach them and you’re honest about your experience and what you have to offer the project, and you make it clear that you’re willing to work, you’ll likely find people are quite receptive.

Good luck!

Jamie

filed under: Conservation

I am perplexed and very worried for one of my 5 Yellow-headed amazons. Four are 26 years old, and one (female, Gitana) is now about 14 years old. A couple of winters ago Gitana started pulling her feathers frantically and demonstrating that she was experiencing intense itchiness with flicking feathers, twitching, and squirming. I brought her to my avian vet and had many tests done, with no diagnostic results. The vet prescribed antibiotics, fungals and Benedryl anyway in hopes of relieving her symptoms, which I gave for several months, with no improvement. Eventually she was featherless, except for her head, tail and wings. She was clearly in pain as she pulled, and cried out. Her skin was to the point of bloodiness in a few places from all of her over-preening.

When spring arrived, her problems diminished, feathers grew back, and she and I felt great relief. Eventually, I figured that even though my house is relatively humid (by dry winter heat in Minnesota standards) that she had been suffering from dry conditions and dry skin.

Last winter I bought a humidifier, and she did very minimal feather destruction. I kept the humidity at around 35 - 50%. I started paying attention to the dryness of my own sinuses and nose and if I noticed discomfort, I increased the house humidity.

Living conditions:
My amazons get a lot of fresh food, mostly organic. In summer, they get many just picked fresh veggies that I grow in my organic garden. Some protein... usually a small amount of lightly cooked egg with a lot of veggies mixed in, or a couple of nuts or a small touch of cheese. Rarely, they get a small taste of a chip (salt rinsed off) or a little taste of toast with peanut butter. Evenings, they get a couple of teaspoons of mixed seeds (including fresh refrigerated flax seeds), organic human grade, purchased from a co-op, plus each gets 5 Harrison's pellets. Then a small (one TBSP) piece of fruit. Filtered water, flying exercise everyday. Large stainless steel cages. In the summer, I try to get them outside at least once a week, and they get hose, full-drench baths. (In the winter they get spray bottle baths).

Gitana lives and shares a cage with a male YH, Jake, who has always been very kind to her. No signs of any problem with him. Though I formerly bred my small flock of YHs, I have not provided nest boxes since 1999. Gitana has a difficult early history, as she was bred in captivity and lived with a mentally and chemically challenged woman for the first four years of he life. She came to our flock after another female died. Gitana was too young to be involved during the years that I bred them, so she has never had chicks.

Summer in Minnesota has been very warm and humid this year. I very rarely run my central air though, preferring open windows and fans whenever possible. So I was very unpleasantly surprised to find Gitana extremely itchy again this week, and wildly picking at her feathers, belly, back and legs are bare. She is trying to get out of her skin... flicking, jerking, picking, looking very tired from the stress. She stresses and picks even when all of the others are fast asleep for the night. Cages get covered for night by dark colored sheets (old and very well washed with eco-friendly soap, line dried).

The only thing that I can recall that has changed in her diet is that I ran out of flax a couple of weeks ago, and did not buy more until yesterday. I also bought hemp oil and have put a small drop on each of their five pellets. This is just the second day, so I still have hope that these essential fatty acids will help, though so far, she is not improving and I am so worried and feel so bad for her because of her extreme discomfort. I hope that you can offer some very quick ideas and help this lovely bird who is suffering so.

If it's an allergy, I just don't know what to think. Much of the seasonal food she's been getting now... organic plums, grapes, tomatoes, beans... garden stuff, she was probably not getting when this occurred last time, in winter. Other foods are not new. This is an acute reaction... she was pretty happy one day and frantic the next. I think that I will withhold peanuts, because they MAY have varying levels of aflatoxin, though I buy nuts from the Wedge Co-op, which is probably the best source. I wish that I were one of those really organized (OCD!) record keeping types and knew exactly what she had eaten for the last few years, but I am not.

I am giving her a lot of baths, but with no feathers, she shivers so easily, so I have her and Jake in a small cage outside today and yesterday because the air is on inside when we're in the mid nineties or above. The outside temp is 93 today, well within their normal habitat range.

Any thoughts are greatly appreciated! Marie

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Your question and dilemma is not an uncommon one, and challenging to help you easily with. Most importantly, I would really strongly suggest that your bird needs to be evaluated by an experienced and qualified veterinarian for a more accurate diagnosis of this problem and careful charting of a combined behavioral and medical intervention plan. There will be no simple or quick answers. Sometimes, skin biopsies are very appropriate to obtain in such intensely itchy patients from a diagnostic point of view. I'd caution against seeking symptomatic treatments (typically fail in the long run and allow the problem to become more chronic and refractory), but would more guide you towards a most optimal and more complete intervention plan.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have a 2 year old Lesser Sulphur Crested Cockatoo hen, Perdy . She lives in 35 meter aviary with 15 mixed species or in the house with 2 pet Greys. I think she needs a companion. Should I look for a male or a female given that her species in CITES1 in the wild. Dorothy Schwarz

Answered by Jamie Gilardi:

It really sounds like your bird has a LOT of potential companions already, but back to that in a minute. I suspect what you're really wondering is whether there is a sound conservation justification for breeding your female cockatoo because this species is quite rare in the wild (recall that CITES status isn't specifically about rareness, rather the potential or real threat from trade). Given your bird's history of being around other parrots in the west, it would be very difficult for your bird to be paired for conservation breeding strictly from a disease standpoint. Even if your birds are extraordinarily healthy, they clearly have had opportunities to pick up all sorts of things from all over the world - directly or indirectly - and many of these diseases can be hard to detect. As there are some islands in Indonesia with reasonable numbers of these birds, it is unlikely that captive pet birds like yours or their progeny will play a direct role in the recovery of the species in the wild. Clearly, there are a few species of parrots for which every individual is of potential conservation significance, but these are tremendously rare species like Kakapo, Spix's Macaws, and the like.

But that of course does not mean that your bird(s) can't have huge conservation significance in terms or raising awareness and support for the conservation of their brethren in the wild. Your birds are great ambassadors for their species and for parrots in general. Because they are such engaging and spectacular animals, captive parrots create great opportunities to educate and inspire individuals to help conservation all over the world. Many of the most consistent and generous supporters of parrot conservation have been inspired by a relationship or experience with a single bird and yours may well have the same great influence on people.

In terms of companionship, it's very hard to guess what would be best for your bird without experiencing the individual(s) in question and watching very carefully. My colleagues and I go back and forth on the question of the specific benefits of companionship with a bird's own species vs. other species. Part of the reason for this must be that species and individuals vary a great deal, and some treat birds of their own or other species like potted plants, while others would happily move in with the neighbor's cat (I've had both extremes in my time). If your cockatoo really doesn't get much out of your other birds, you might ask around local rescue centers to see if there is a cockatoo you might introduce her to to see how they get on. But as a cockatoo owner, I'm sure you're aware that there are big and sometimes dangerous gender differences, so be careful, talk to other's knowledgeable about this, and tread cautiously. And of course, practice very careful biosecurity whenever introducing your birds to others or others to your flock.

All best wishes,

Jamie

filed under: Conservation

We are thinking about building an outdoor aviary for our cockatoos and we live on the coast in Oregon. Is it warm enough to keep them outside year round?

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Thanks for the question and for your intention to get your Cockatoos outside in the fresh air and light. The answer to this question will come through conversation, because the answer is determined by us finding out what's right for your birds.

Before you begin aviary construction, ask your avian veterinarian for an assessment of the physical condition of the birds. Examinations, histories and thorough work-ups will help determine their suitability for year-round outdoor activities. I ask my vet to run the same tests she would run on her own beloved birds if faced with the same decision. Then, we analyze the results together. I hope you have a similarly supportive avian vet or that you will cultivate such a relationship as soon as possible for the welfare of your parrots. Perhaps your avian vet already knows your birds and people who have outdoor flights in your area. If you can network with local aviculturists or companion caregivers, their trials and triumphs might be pertinent to the process you follow and the goals you achieve.

We have our Cockatoos outside all year around but central coast CA (3 miles up in the mountains from the coast) is different than Oregon. We enjoy watching them hang upside down in sunlight -- crests ablaze, wings out and flapping, they show us luminous colors in full movement. Our Cockatoos have aviaries that are covered on three sides in the back (4'), uncovered wire in the center (14') and roofed in the front (2') by the feeding stations. They are long-term outdoor birds in excellent health; daily watchful caregivers are alert to their feeding, preening and activity levels for all times of day and night; perches are correctly sized; enrichments are placed to encourage activity and also to allow for privacy if desired. However, we know that the art of aviary design continues, as does the science.

I knew my Galerita elenora Josserlynn was perfectly healthy when I put her in a flight about 10 years ago. A flyer since fledging, Joss immediately loved her new bigger space outside. Still, I checked her on her first cold nights night by touching the foot she perched on -- it was cold. Then I touched the foot her held against her downy chest -- warm as toast. She switched feet: the cold one went up, the warm one down. She was and is fine.

Katy McElroy lives in Ohio and keeps her Cockatoos in a combination indoor/outdoor aviary. The indoors is a cinderblock building heated to 33F in the winter, so the water bowls don't freeze. The doorway to outside is one missing brick. Through this small portal, the 'Toos enter gloriously large and well-perched outdoor flight. I've seen footage of her Cockatoos chewing away at ice-covered perches, and flying in the snow. Importantly, 1) these birds are in amazingly wonderful physical condition and 2) at all times they can choose whether to be inside or outside.

Steve, be sure your birds are physically capable of withstanding its fluctuations. Additionally, you'll want to watch them carefully so you can postiviely reinforce them when they explore their new habitat. Keep the final perch design flexible -- they will show and tell you what they like and how they like it. In an aviary, the larger the better, we can provision our birds with spaces that encourage positive activities such as foraging, swinging, flying, bathing, interaction, privacy and goofing off. An aviary safe from predators that provides escape from harsh weather, access to nice weather, a place where humans and parrots are comfortable as they flock together for meals, playtime, singing and hanging out -- this is the aviary to build.

All best,
Phoebe Greene Linden

filed under: Parrot Care

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