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About Glenn Reynolds
Glenn Reynolds has owned and bred various parrot species since 1979, starting with Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Cockatiels and eventually moving…

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Ask An Expert: Glenn Reynolds

Browse by category: Parrot Care, Behaviour and Training, Conservation, Ethics and Welfare, Housing and Environmental Enrichment, General, Health and Nutrition

My 18 year old green wing macaw has started laying eggs. The first 2 I disposed of but I've let the 3rd one stay in the cage because I was worried she would just keep producing eggs if I kept disposing of them.

She was spending alot of time on the floor of her cage with the egg, but last night and today she was on her perch when I put her to bed and woke her up.

She doesn't spend a lot of time in her cage. Mostly to eat (twice a day) and sleep. The rest of the time she's in different rooms of the house climbing, playing, etc.

She has a companion female blue & gold (19 yrs old), they don't live in the same cage but they do spend almost all their time together.

Nothing has really changed in her environment that I can perceive so I don't know why all of a sudden she's laying eggs.

Should I take her in for a vet check? She last visited the vet about 6 months ago, for a check up

Should I increase her food in any way? She eats Harrison's High Potency Pellets, fresh vegies (broc, peppers, squash).

Thanks for your help as always!

Answered by Glenn Reynolds:

Hello BJ, The reproduction cycle of parrots is largely dependent on numerous environmental factors. One of those is feeling very comfortable and safe in their surroundings. Your female Green-winged Macaw is obviously happy in her situation; therefore, she has started laying eggs. I don’t know that anyone can explain why it has taken so long. Maybe this year’s unusual winter had something to do with it. Who knows what environmental triggers she is sensing?

In my personal experience I have seen this become a problem with smaller birds such as budgies and cockatiels, that once started, seem to become egg factories, which in turn depletes them of nutrients over time. Chickens are fed special diets for egg production, but those diets are designed for maximum production and aren’t at all developed for the longevity of the bird.

Generally speaking the larger parrots will grow out of it. I have used several different methods. What I have found works best is to give them a nest box, so that they can learn to lay and sit their eggs in a cavity, which is instinctive to them. Laying and sitting eggs out in the open is not natural, which is most likely why she abandoned the egg you left for her. Usually once they have laid and cared for a clutch or two of eggs in a nest box, and it’s taken away, they won’t lay any more eggs unless the nest box is reintroduced. In some cases if the cage is in a cramped area it may feel like to them that they are in a nest box when just sitting in their cage. If this is the case you may want to move the cage into a more open area.

Whether or not she needs to go to a veterinarian depends on a lot of different factors.

1) At her most recent visit what tests were done and were they normal?

2) Was a CBC and chemistry done and were they normal?

3) Is her behavior normal other than the fact she is now laying eggs?

4) Did she have any trouble laying the eggs?

5) Did the egg shells look normal (nice and smooth and thick) or were they thin in areas and chipping or flaking?

6) Is she eating as normal?

At 18-years old she has probably built up a pretty good calcium store, but if the shells were thin or flaking that is a sign of a calcium deficiency or some sort of metabolic issue that isn’t allowing her to properly store calcium. For instance a lack of exposure to UV can result in low levels of vitamin D; therefore, they can’t properly store calcium.

She seems to be on a pretty good diet. Since she is a macaw I would suggest adding a few nuts in the shell on a daily basis (walnuts, hazel nuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, almonds, etc.) and some fresh fruits now and then. This has nothing to do with her egg laying, but macaws tend to need a little more fat in their diets, and they enjoy fresh fruit. Some nuts, such as almonds contain good levels of calcium. Almost all nuts contain a lot of other beneficial nutrients and trace elements.

Thank you,

filed under: Health and Nutrition

My husband and I have adopted a galerita cockatoo, a goffin's cockatoo and a jandaya conure, all of whom were in various states of disrepair. To provide sunlight and exercise, we are building a small 8' X 10' (8' in height) outdoor aviary. The entire aviary will be wire meshed on the inside and screened on the outside with a wire mesh floor covered with crusher dust. We have a few questions and would be very thankful for some help.

1. We have fire ants here in Valrico, Florida. Does anyone have advice on how to keep them out of the aviary?

2. We were advised that we should roof the entire aviary (not leaving an open area for sun and rain) because of a disease transmitted through opossum droppings. Since the aviary will be small and only 8' tall, it is entirely possible that a possum could climb onto the top. We had hoped to have open areas for sun and rain, but we do not want to endanger the birds.
Any advice?

3. We had also hoped to provide an area for foraging in dirt and grasses, but were advised not to do this since soil could harbor harmful parasites or fungus. We were planning on building a raised, tiered foraging area planted with grasses and millets. Can you please advise us?

Unfortunately, the three birds each came from homes where they were isolated and never socialized with other birds, so they will be taking turns in the aviary. We are exicited about this project and hope you can provide some advice. Thank you very much.

Answered by Glenn Reynolds:

Hello Peggy and Jay, You have some very good questions. I’ll see if I can answer them. I too live in Florida and have an outdoor structure for my birds, so I think I have some insight on your issues.

As far as the fire ants, they are a problem, and I don’t like using the baits and insecticides around my birds. Diatomaceous Earth (DE) seems to be the best non toxic solution. There are also some bio solutions in the form of beneficial nematodes available, which I haven’t tried, and don’t know that I would, depending on what they are.

Diatomaceous earth is formed from the skeletal remains of the algae Bacillariophyceae and is in the form of an abrasive silica dust. When an insect comes in contact with the razor-sharp edges of these particles it causes abrasions, resulting in the loss of body fluids and ultimately death. DE works well as a protective barrier against many insects. It’s now being sold as an insecticide in most major hardware-chains and in many cases is mixed with a pyrethrin. It can be expensive, and I don’t like the fact they are mixing it with something completely unnecessary. The best way to purchase it is to leave the pesticide department and walk around to the pool department. DE is used extensively in pool filters and can be purchased in large boxes for next to nothing.

The disease you are referring to that may be transmitted through opossum droppings is sarcocystis, which is actually a protozoa. There is a whole chain of events that has to take place in the right order for this to happen, but it is somewhat common in Florida.

Since your enclosure is covered with screen on the outside, I don’t see too much of a problem. The screen would catch any droppings. Make sure that any water bowls or food bowls are not directly below any of the open area. The protozoa can be spread by cockroaches, which have injested the feces too. If that’s the ultimate threat covering the entire roof isn’t going to solve the problem, and I don’t know of much that will accept maybe the DE barrier mentioned above.

What I recommend is that the walls of the structure have a 2-foot tall kick-plate around the whole perimeter at the bottom of the walls. If the screen goes to the ground you are going to have a lot more problems with mice, rats, raccoons, and stray cats chewing or tearing through the screen than you are going to have with opossums. In my area I have to also be aware of bobcats, and here lately, a stray black bear or two. If you have a screen door for entry into the enclosure the installer can easily dismantle the door and add a taller kick-plate to the door than what comes in it. I have found through experience that a 2-foot kick plate will stop almost all mice and rats. At the rail that the top of the kick-plate is attached to you will need to add a commercially available electric fence using plastic isolators. The combination of the kick-plate and the electric fence around the top of the kick-plate will keep everything out as well as from climbing the walls to gain access to the roof. Trim back any branches that overhang the structure and could allow access by dropping down from the branches. If you don’t like the thought of using an electric fence there are motion activated sprinklers available that are made to deter most anything of the size of a squirrel on up. They are called scarecrow sprinklers. They move very quickly and do scare off most anything. They are not sensitive enough for the mice and rats, so you will still need the kick-plate.

The foraging area is difficult. Parasites and nematodes are everywhere in the soil in Florida, so I don’t know that you can be assured that any way you go about it is going to be 100% safe. First off what ever you do have your parrots de-wormed prior to putting them in the enclosure. Your foraging area is only going to be as parasite free as your birds.

My cages actually go to the ground, so I had a similar issue. What I have done is put a layer of commercial grade weed cloth down. I then covered it in a layer of crushed concrete, which should be completely void of parasites and nematodes just because of what it is. I then put a thick layer of crushed oyster/clam shell down as something natural for my birds to walk around on that is safe even if they chew on it. It’s available all over Florida where bulk garden covering and ground covers are sold. Once I put it down I rented a steam cleaner and pressure washed it with steam to both remove any remaining soil that may be trapped in the shells and to also sterilize it as best as I could.

I think you could take this one step farther and go with another layer of weed cloth on top of the crushed shell and then cover that with a very thick layer sterilized compost or garden soil. Good quality garden soil should have been heat treated to kill off any nematodes. You could then plant your grass and millet. Make sure that when you are building your frame for this area that you don’t use treated lumber.

Keep in mind that wild birds come in contact with all these things your are trying to protect your birds from. I understand your concerns and intentions. I have taken many steps in a similar direction. The best protection you can give your birds is a healthy diet and habitat to encourage a strong immune system. Sunlight, rain, and fresh air play a big roll in doing so. Take advantage of what you have to offer that so many who live in other regions cannot offer to their parrots.

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

My Question: Hi There, I am trying to get some clarity on some nutrition issues.

1) I know well that a lot of sunflower is not good, but there seems to be a big move totally against sunflower.(my birds get about 10-15% of their diet as sunflower.) Is this move totally against sunflower just the "in" thing, or is there good research behind it?

2) Vegetables are seen as more beneficial than fruit, but i have never seen a wild parrot or a photo of one eating vegetables. Fruit, grains, nuts, blossoms and bark, yes, but never vegetables. why are vegetables preferred for captive birds, is it to compensate for foods missing in a captive diet, or do captive birds just not need the quick energy boost fruit provides as much as wild birds, or is it something else?

3) What is your opinion on palm oil? (apart from the fact that parrot habitat is destroyed to create space for the palm plantations.) I do feed pellets, but I don't like diets of pellets only.


Answered by Glenn Reynolds:

Hello Bruce, thanks for your questions.

First off I think we need to understand that we can’t feed a captive parrot in the same manner that a parrot would feed in the wild. Captive parrots don’t have the same caloric requirements because they don’t forage long distances for food and are really, in the best of circumstances, sedate as compared to free flying parrots. Moreover we need to consider that there are vast differences in the foods that wild parrots eat, generally determined by their geographical location, and we simply don’t have access to many of those foods. We need to consider that many captive parrots don’t have the same access to natural light and fresh air, which plays into their dietary requirements, as compared to their wild counterparts. That brings me to the very important point that there are big differences in the nutritional requirements of a parrot and the dietary requirements of an individual captive parrot. Husbandry practices play a big role in what your parrot needs to eat to reach its optimal nutritional health, which is based on much more than what species of parrot it is. You need to work your particular husbandry practices into the equation. Even the average temperature in a given situation can result in different dietary requirements of a captive parrot. Parrots kept in cool places will need more fat in their diets than parrots kept in a warmer environment. As temperatures fall a parrot's metabolism speeds up to burn more fat to keep it warm. As temperatures rise a parrot's metabolism slows down because it doesn't need to burn as much fat to stay warm. As a result, parrots kept in cooler environments will generally eat more food and in doing so also take in more nutrient because of the higher intake. Parrots kept in a warmer environment will not eat as much and may not be taking in enough nutrient if the diet is not nutrient concentrated. For example, a Moluccan Cockatoo kept indoors in New York will have notably different dietary requirements than a Moluccan Cockatoo kept in an outdoor aviary in Florida in order to reach the same level of nutritional health. These two circumstances present dramatic differences in exposure to natural light, fresh air, and average temperature, which individually or collectively will vary the dietary needs of a captive parrot.

I am sure we could do a better job at looking at some of their natural foods and trying to emulate the amino acid and fatty acid profiles, and other nutrient levels contained in those foods, yet keep the overall percentage of fat to a minimum as required by most captive parrots. When you do think about the expansive differences in diets wild parrots eat around the world it really is a wonder that we have come as far as we have in such a short time with minimal research as compared to commercial livestock and poultry. The best an individual can do is try to provide a base diet to meet known nutrient requirements for parrots in general, while keeping in mind the parameters and/or limitations of their husbandry practices, and then educate themselves on what their particular parrot needs that’s different.

The push against sunflower seed has been around for decades, and I think there are a lot of motives. I am sure the safflower industry would rather see you feeding your birds safflower. I also think the pelleted diet industry would rather see you feeding your birds pellets rather than any kind of seed.

There are a few of things I believe do have relevance in the argument. One is the high fat content of sunflower seed. On average a dried sunflower seed is about 36% fat. Another issue is that sunflower seed, as well as many of the other seed in parrot seed mixes and peanuts, go rancid rapidly and can be a perfect medium for growing aspergillus, which is a species of mold. Rancidity can result in a whole list of issues that may or may not fall under the label of aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are mycotoxins or toxic chemical byproducts of molds. Alfatoxins are amoung the most carcinogenic substances known to man. Aspergillus is ubiquitous, but can infect parrots, especially a compromised parrot. Aspergillus infections are generally secondary to other health, dietary, or husbandry issues. Aspergillus is extremely difficult to treat even when caught early. Last but not least, in order to try and give our captive parrots the broadest spectrum of fatty acids as possible the fat in their diets needs to come from a variety of foods which should have different fatty acid profiles. If we are using seed mixes, even in the smallest amounts, the fatty acid profile is most likely very limited. A variety of nuts can provide a much better source of fat.

Referring back to points made in the first paragraph, vegetables in a captive parrot’s diet provide a much broader spectrum of nutrients than fruits. Fruits are mainly water and sugar with some vitamins and minerals, vitamin C being one most likely found. Since healthy parrots produce vitamin C in their gut supplementation is generally not necessary; although, may be beneficial for young, growing, or compromised parrots. Personally, I don’t think berries get enough inclusion in the captive parrot diet, as they are packed with nutrients and antioxidants.

Palm oils are one of those foods we should look at that can provide some of the complex fatty acid profiles wild parrots consume in order to better feed our captive parrots. You need to be very careful of the source though. All fats are prone to rancidity if not properly stored. Fatty acids are very heat sensitive, so the manner in which the palm oil is stored and in which your parrot eats it plays into the equation. Using palm oils in cooked bird breads and muffins most likely does a lot of damage to the nutrients you are trying to provide in using them in the first place. I am fortunate enough to have access to fresh palm nuts, and I think it is the best way to get palm oil into your parrot. Another observation is that you generally see wild parrots eating palm fruit when it’s still green, prior to ripening, and the nutritional make up may be significantly different than the completely ripe palm fruit currently found on the market for parrot consumption and used to make most of the palm oils readily available today.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

i have a orange winged amazon,my question is about feeding,i use a juicer and wondered if my parrot can eat the mulch left behind,we tried him with the juice but he wont drink it.thanks in advance.

Answered by Glenn Reynolds:

Hello Pat, It would be very helpful to have a little more information. First off are you using a vegetable juicer and juicing vegetables, or are you using a fruit juicer and juicing fruit? We should always feed our parrots high quality foods, and I am not sure that eating the mulch left in a juicer after the the meat has been reduced to juice complies.

I recommend using whole fresh vegetables, wash them carefully, cut them into different sizes, and offer them to your bird. You may find they will like only certain vegetables cut into certain sizes, so a variety in the beginning is very helpful. For example, when feeding fresh corn I leave the corn on the cob and cut it into wheels of varing widths until I find what the bird likes.

When feeding fruits clean the outside well and apply the same rules - cut them into a variety of sizes until you find what your bird likes. I leave the skin or rind on when I cut them up. Birds seem to like to eat the meat out of a wedge of orange and drop the peel to the bottom. I think it makes eating more interesting. I also use clothespins to hold pieces of vegetables or fruit to the bars of the cage, so they are more like a toy.

In summary I would recommend using whole vegetables and fruits and leave the mulch for exactly that - mulch.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

My male Eclectus is losing a lot of feathers from his upper breast region
and they appear to be a greyish colour underneath, could he be "moulting"
or could there be a more serious problem?

Answered by Glenn Reynolds:

Hello Stephen,
Birds don't naturally molt of sections of feathers. They molt feathers in a way that they will still be protected and able to fly. For an Eclectus Parrot the grey down feathers are normal and should be there. There could be numerous reasons why this is happening. Some more information would be helpful. How old is your bird? Is he caged with a mate or other bird? Is your bird kept indoors at all times or does he get outside? What sort of diet is he on? Has he been looked at by a avian veterinarian? Is he kept in a very dry area? Does he have a lot of toys to play with and things to keep his mind occupied?

Nutrition is of utmost importance, so a good diet consisting of a mix of a formulated diet with vegetables, fruits, and some nuts is a good place to start. Raw nuts are the best choice. Stay away from nuts with salt on them. There are very few nuts in the shell Eclectus Parrots can get into. I use almonds with mine. I recommend staying away from peanuts. There are a lot of fungal issues with peanuts. I also partially crack other nuts like hazel nuts, and brazil nuts. They can work their way into them if they are pre-cracked. Parrots also need minimal and regualr exposure to direct sunlight (shaded areas are fine). All windows filter out at least part of the sun's rays. You can use full spectrum lights, but there is no replacement for natural sunlight, and full spectrum lights need to be replaced often.

The problem could be caused by feather mites. An avian veterinarian should be able to resolve that easily after examination.

Since most parrots come from tropical to sub tropical climates proper humidity is important. Dry skin can cause them to pluck. This seems to occur more in dry winter months than in the warmer more humid months.

If your bird is caged with another bird the other bird could be over preening the male Eclectus. This is not at all uncommon with captive birds caged together. This is easily resolved by caging the birds separately.

Heavy metal toxicity such as lead or zinc can cause feather picking. You will normally see nuerological symptoms and/or blood in the stool with heavy metal toxicity. If you are observing either your bird needs to be seen by a qualified avian veterinarian.

Unfortunately feather plucking is rather common with Eclectus Parrots. In my experience males seem to pluck more than females. The chest area and on their back between the shoulders seem to be their favorite places as well as the legs. I have seen self-mutilation of the legs in Solomon's Island Eclectus to the point that they pull the tissue off of their legs. In most cases there is no apparent reason, but any of the above can cause it. I can say that in my experiences I have seen healthy Eclectus Parrots with proper husbandry grow out of their feather picking behavior with age, but some of them don't.

If your bird is caged alone (ruling out over preening from another bird) regardless of the origin you need to start eliminating causes. The best place to start is an examination by a qualified avian veterinarian. They will be able to physically examine your bird and make recommendations on where start.

This can be very frustrating, and sometimes there is no reason (other than behavioral/psychological/hormonal problems) or cure. It's probably one of the most difficult challenges of owning a captive bird.

I wish you the best of luck,

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Hello Glenn, Could you advise me on a diet for my cockatiel that would get his weight down? I don`t want to loose him. He is 20 years of age and weighs 120 grams and he doesn`t seem to want to fly now. I stopped giving him the cockatiel seed mix which contains sunflower seeds and have been giving him canary and budgie seed, but still his weight doesn`t come down. He doesn`t eat pellets and doesn`t take much fruit or vegetables.

Thank you,

Answered by Glenn Reynolds:

Hello Elizabeth,
120 grams is heavy for the average cockatiel, but there are some that are larger. A lot of it has to do with blood lines, ethical breeding standards in your bird's background, etc. It would be helpful to know what your bird's average weight has been over a long period of time. Furthermore it would be helpful to know if a qualified veterinarian has determined him to be obese.

If he truly is over weight your only choice is to get him off of the high fat diet and increase his level of activity. There are a lot of reasons beyond obesity to do so. Fatty liver disease comes to mind, as well as diabetes, and simply a lack of proper nutrition.

I don't know that anyone fully knows the correct diet for a parrot of any given species. You will find there are as many diets as there bird owners. This is not to say that people aren't feeding their birds properly. What I am saying is that on the research end; although, we are learning a lot more about feeding parrots, there is still a lot to learn. The magnitude of the number of different species in captive circumstances makes this even harder. Wild parrots are geographically located all over the world and in many cases have diets dictated by food availability in that given region. That said you can't necessarily try to feed a captive parrot the same diet it's wild relative would eat in it's natural environment. Foraging birds burn a lot of fat in their daily quest for food. Captive birds don't. Many wild birds eat food items that aren't fully ripe. Un-ripe foods will have a different nutritional make up than the same food once it has fully ripened. Generally we can't purchase those food items in the same stage of development as it is in when wild parrots are eating them.

A broad range of food items in your bird's diet is the best way to go. I use a mix of pellets (about 50% of the daily intake), mixed fresh vegetables and greens (about 30% of the daily intake) and make up the other 20% with fruits, nuts (for larger birds) and a small amount of high quality seed mix. Many people add sprouts, bird breads, bird muffins, etc. I do too now and then. Parrots' nutritional needs do vary by species, and you should spend some time researching what other people are using successfully with cockatiels.

I have found that in most cases the statement that, "My bird won't eat pellets", or "My bird won't eat vegetables" has more to do with the owner than the bird. I don't mean to insult anyone. I am being truthful. You have to find the motivation to be persistent, and you have to be creative. Your bird's long-term health should be the primary motivation.

In my opinion the first step is for you to make a financial investment large enough to motivate you to follow through. Take your bird for a complete work up at a qualified avian veterinarian to see if he has any obvious nutritional deficiencies. Some deficiencies can be found on physical exam, such as a vitamin A deficiency. Others will require a complete work up including blood tests. Your veterinarian will take a look at the results and make suggestions. If one of those suggestions is to add a formulated diet don't go out and purchase a couple of pounds of pellets or ask a manufacturer for a free sample to see if your bird will eat it. Doing so makes little to no investment on your end and won't result in you being persistent. Purchase enough to last a few months keeping in mind that the pellets should be changed out daily.

Now that you have a substantial financial investment to keep you motivated you need to get creative. Try soaking the pellets in some sort of sweet fruit juice such as pineapple juice to make the smell and taste of the pellets more attractive to your bird. If this works gradually reduce the amount of juice and soaking time until your bird is eating the pellets without the soaking. Try melting peanut butter in a bowl and stirring pellets in to coat them. Once your bird starts eating them gradually reduce the amount of peanut butter. Try mixing the pellets with canned corn kernels, so that the pellets soak up the juice. Once your bird starts eating the pellets gradually reduce the amount of corn. Please note, I am not saying that pineapple juice, peanut butter, or corn kernels is a healthy diet for your bird. These are simply tricks that I have found to work on my own birds. The purpose at this point is to modify your bird's diet and eating behaviors. Always offer up new foods in a separate bowl, and don't starve your bird while you are making the changes. If you add new foods to the same bowl as the seed he is now eating he will most likely dig through the bowl and throw out the new food items to get to what he is familiar with. If you withhold food he will get frantic and fixate on only what he currently knows to eat.

As far as vegetables and greens go you have to get creative with them too. Try cutting them in different sizes. Try hanging them from the cage with a clothespin to make them more like a toy . Try stuffing them in a hole in a toy. Try using them as treats. If you often handle your bird let him see you eat them and offer some to him at the same time. Make them a play time toy.

Above and beyond all of the suggestions I have made, take your bird off of his feeding schedule. You don't want him to know when his next meal is coming. If he does he will always know when he is going to get the foods he likes and hold out on eating the food you want him to eat. Wild birds may forage on somewhat of a schedule, but they often don't know when they will find their next meal; therefore, they are more likely to eat what is available. Feeding your bird off schedule can result in a "psychological hunger" even though your are not actually withholding food. This can create the same results in him being more willing to eat what is available.

Once you have changed his diet you will need to get just as creative in thinking of ways to make him more active. Parrots are smart, but you can be smarter. Invest in his long-term health both monetarily and in persistence. Make it YOUR goal to get him to eat a better diet. You will find the more variety you can get him to eat the easier it will be to add even more new food items to his daily intake.

I hope this works for you,

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I read your article on hot peppers. Since parrots don't seem to taste the heat, do you think they'd suffer from capsaicin cream? My doctor has prescribed it for me for pain and I'm afraid to wear it because I have several parrots & one is almost always on my arm or shoulder, where should I wear the cream?

Answered by Glenn Reynolds:

Hello Cindi,
Parrots may not have the ability to sense the heat of capsaicin in their mouths, but I wouldn't think this would apply to other parts of their bodies. Capsaicin is readily absorbed through the skin particularly in sensitive areas. I have a hedge of wild peppers. They are very small peppers that grow on plants that are about 4 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. After reaching through the branches picking peppers for a while my arms start to burn up to the elbows. There is actually a term for this. It is called jalapeno hands or if in the eyes jalapeno eyes. There really is no way to wash it off. Extreme cases can last for days.

I would be concerned that wherever you put the capsaicin cream that if your birds can contact it with their feet they are most likely going to absorb it through the skin. I don't know that the capsaicin itself would cause any medical issues; although, in very extreme cases I have experienced a rawness to the skin, which can be very painful. If at all possible I would suggest not allowing the birds on any part of your body that has been treated with the capsaicin cream. Maybe the use of long sleeve shirts would resolve the issue.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

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 ( 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

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