Letters


Dear Parrots magazine,

Misunderstanding?

I read Jim Hayward Jnr’s article in Parrots magazine issue 204, January 2015, with interest.  Mr Hayward has named me directly as the inspiration for his article and I feel that he has misinterpreted my original letter, which was a plea for readers and contributors to “live and let live” on the subject of feeding.  Here I wish to clarify a few points and make an observation of my own.

First, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Rosemary Low.  I have read and enjoyed a number of Rosemary’s books, including her volume on nutrition in parrots and finches.  Rosemary has a wealth of hands-on experience to draw from and she also carries out a good deal of research.  I know from my correspondence with Rosemary that this research is on-going and that she is a lady who is open to learning new things.  I believe her to be exceptional in the parrot world for the quality of her writing and above all else, Rosemary is a person who cares very deeply about parrot welfare, she is a very no-nonsense lady and is not afraid to speak out against practices that she feels are damaging to captive parrots.

I turn to Rosemary’s books for information and have learnt much of value from them, she is a trustworthy source of knowledge, much of which I have put into practice.  Sadly, I cannot say the same of some of the other authors of books about parrots that I have read.  However, I am now going to make two distinctions.  The first distinction is between obtaining general information and seeking specific advice, the second is between aviary birds and pet birds kept inside the home, which have differing nutritional needs to their aviary counterparts, due to their lifestyle.

The reason I consult our vet for specific nutritional advice is that I put my trust in science.  We are fortunate in that we have our pet parrots registered with Mr John Chitty, one of the UK’s most highly respected and experienced avian specialist vets.  Our vet has at his disposal a modern, purpose built surgery, equipped with many diagnostic tools, such as blood screening, x-ray, endoscopy etc.  Blood screening can pinpoint the exact nutrients that may be deficient in a pet parrot’s diet, allowing the vet to then offer advice on the best method of improving the diet to bring it back into balance.  Our vet does not have a large display of food on sale and he is not 'in-bed' with any particular food company, therefore I consider his advice to be professional, unbiased and backed up by scientific evidence, in the form of diagnostic tests.  Many a pet parrot’s life has been saved by such testing and dietary adjustment.  Furthermore, vets tend to keep up to date with current research, often publishing scientific papers of their own to add to an invaluable pool of knowledge from which other interested parties may draw their research.

Anyone who has been unfortunate enough to have a bird suffer from Aspergillosis, as we did with our African Grey parrot, Wingnut (happily Wingnut is still with us) will see the value of a manufactured diet, as the risk of fungal contamination has been virtually eliminated by the manufacturing process and as long as the food is stored correctly when it is taken into the home, I would suggest that such a diet is a safer alternative to seeds or in-shell nuts.  Again, the financial investment and scientific research behind many manufactured diets is of value here for parrot welfare.  Having been feeding such a diet to our pet parrots for around six months now, the results are already apparent and we have been amazed and delighted to observe down feather growth on the chest of Pepita (our rescue Severe Macaw) who it was thought was so damaged by poor diet in her previous home that she would never regain feathers in this area.  In short, the results speak for themselves and the product is readily consumed by all of our birds, it’s the first thing all of them pick out of their bowls.

Also, contrary to the commonly held theory that pet parrots are 'not domesticated' or 'just a few generations from their wild ancestors', I am pretty certain that the individual pet parrots who we share our home with have no desire to return to the wild, ours are about as domesticated as you can get and their chance of survival in the wild would be very low, bordering on zero, so why not let them benefit from the appliance of science and receive optimum nutrition?  However, I would like to make it very clear that our birds also enjoy a large range of fresh produce and home cooked food.

If we kept species such as Australian grass parakeets, finches or canaries then we would feed seed alongside the fresh produce.  Our parrots ignore sprouted food but the local wild Corvids relish it, it’s almost worth making the wretched stuff just to watch the Jackdaws (who put me in mind of Senegal parrots) enjoying it, almost, but not quite!   How does the song go? "You say potatoes and I say potatas".  This was the whole point of my original letter, that all birds and owners are individual and what works in one situation may not work or even be appropriate in another.  I repeat, live and let live!

Regarding the environmental concerns that Mr Hayward expresses regarding manufactured diets, I would comment that, unlike fresh produce, which can be of variable nutritional content, these diets are fortified with (shock, horror!) synthetic vitamins and if the science is there I am going to use it, along with life-saving pharmaceuticals.  Furthermore, does Mr Hayward really imagine that bird seed mixes all originate from the UK?  I would suggest that although this may be desirable, it is highly unlikely, it is more likely that the seeds travel many, many miles from all over the world to reach us.

Finally, there is an issue addressed in Mr Hayward’s article that worries me.  He seems to be under the impression that aviculture is conservation and I simply cannot agree with this.  The English Dictionary defines conservation as "1. protection and careful management of the environment and natural resources, 2.protection from change, loss or injury".  I have in the past been secretary to a caged bird society.  I resigned and left the club because I was deeply saddened by what I encountered, large numbers of finches, canaries and parrot-like species being over-bred by 'fanciers' to exhibit on the show bench, with the excess being dumped into the pet trade, often without quarantine or health screening, where some of these poor creatures end up spending their entire lives in small sales cages, with others being sold as 'pairs' to unwitting buyers who then go on to breed related birds, thus exacerbating the problem.  I also witnessed an eccentric and unreliable method of 'sexing' finches and canaries that involved holding the bewildered bird on his or her back whilst swinging a needle and thread above the helpless creature’s vent!

With shops and websites such as "Preloved" inundated with unwanted birds, advertisements in Cage & Aviary Birds saying such things as 'aviary clear out, great birds, time for a change' and rescue facilities overflowing and unable to cope with the problem of too many birds being bred, not enough good homes, is it really responsible to encourage yet more breeding?  There are good and bad breeders out there, both among the hobbyists and the professionals, and I am well aware of the arguments pertaining to supply and demand.  By all means enjoy breeding birds as a hobby or for profit, but please don’t try to pass it off as 'conservation'.  Conservation starts with the protection and maintenance of the original habitat that the species being conserved comes from and is a complicated, expensive, lengthy and delicate process requiring specialist facilities, a great deal of knowledge, experience and patience, another essential being the co-operation of the governments and other welfare organisations in the country to which the species will ultimately be returned.  This process can take decades and is sadly beyond the scope and financial means of the average back garden breeder.  Mr Hayward provides a long list of parrot species that his family has bred, while not wishing to disregard this achievement, I would respectfully ask, does he know what became of these birds?  How many were fitted with tracking devices and returned to their original habitat?  It is a rhetorical question, to which I think I probably already know the answer.

Karen Anne Chudley - by email


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