07 Nov

Life-saving natural remedies

Natural RemediesBy Pauline James

Even today, the use of natural remedies from simple cupboard ingredients, can often prove to be a life-saver for our parrots, due to their simplicity, availability and the speed at which they can be administered.  Here are a few great tips to cure common ailments:
Curbing the flow of blood: apply white or black powdered pepper to a fresh wound.  It works particularly well on a badly bitten foot that generally bleeds profusely.  Cornflour and flour can also be helpful in curbing the flow of blood.
Candida: this is the most common fungal disease found in parrots, usually due to a deficiency in vitamin A, and can be identified by white blotches inside the mouth.  Treat a bird found with early symptoms with carrot juice offered four times a day and/or dilute a teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda in a glass of water and fed regularly.  A vitamin A-rich diet acts as a preventative.
Compacted crop: papaya and apple are two fruits which contain high levels of natural digestive enzymes which can aid in the breakdown of foods in a compacted crop.  Puree the flesh and mix with water before administering in small quantities at a time.
‘Live’ yoghurt, rich in beneficial bacteria, will help cleanse an unhealthy crop of harmful toxins, or act as a preventative to crop disease.  The fresher the yoghurt, the higher the population of viable lactic cultures it contains, replacing those that occur naturally in the crop and intestines, and aids digestion.
Sour crop: add an eighth of a teaspoon of Epsom salts, bicarbonate of soda, molasses or black treacle to the bird’s drinking water.  Magnesium is the major component of Epsom salts and plays a vital role in orchestrating muscle control and eliminating harmful toxins.  It also helps to regulate the activity of over 300 different digestive enzymes, and provides sulphates which play a vital role in the formation of mucin proteins that line the walls of the digestive tract.  Bicarbonate of soda is anti-bacterial and will serve to neutralise an acidic or gassy crop.  Molasses or black treacle is the by-product of sugar cane, and is high in carbohydrates, vitamin B, calcium, iron and minerals.  Vitamin B, in particular, aids digestion and the efficient absorption of foods.
Scaly face: this condition is the result of mite attacking the exposed parts of a bird’s anatomy.  It often starts on the cere and beak and then spreads to the eyes, vent, legs and feet as the bird scratches.  A little Vaseline rubbed into the affected area, if caught in the early stages, can quickly restore a bird back to good health.
Mineral deficiency: file the side of a clean red house brick and the deposit will provide birds with essential minerals, and grit to help with digestion.  This can be used alongside a good quality mineral supplement, and should not be used as a substitute.

31 Oct

Christmas Offers


Sorry to remind you, but Christmas is just around the corner!  If you are looking for some great present ideas for your parrot-loving friends or family – or yourself! - we’ve got some cracking offers in the November issue (202).  You can buy back issues at special prices when you order 5 or more, there are special deals on CDs or DVDs – buy any 3 and get the lowest priced one free, and a great Christmas subscription offer of 10% off or a free gift.  Postage and packing are free worldwide.

Take advantage of these great offers while you can. 


NB. All offers while stocks last.  All Christmas offers will end on 31st December 2014.

You can see the Christmas offers here or alternatively, buy the November issue here

24 Oct

Preventing avian Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

SADBy Pauline James

Parrots can suffer depression and other related problems in the winter, just like humans, and it is important parrot keepers are aware of this, and provide every preventative measure possible, to ensure their mental and physical well-being.

Winter means cold, wet and windy weather that parrots don’t like any more than we do, but if they have cosy inside housing to retreat to, it makes it far easier for them to endure.  But, demanding weather conditions isn’t the end of it, and the short days, long nights and less powerful sun rays, can take their toll too, and lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) kicking in, if no preventative measures have been taken.  At least 4-6 per cent of the human population in the UK are known to suffer from SAD, and parrots can be affected too.

The lack of good quality light, and the reduced strength of the sun’s rays, is at the heart of the problem.  When light hits the retina at the back of the eye, messages are sent to the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls sleep, appetite, mood activity levels, feather growth and breeding condition in parrots.  If there’s not enough light, these functions can slow down and even cease, causing the debilitating side-effects of SAD.

The over-riding symptom of this disorder is depression, but it can also cause anxiety, socialisation problems, over-eating (especially carbohydrates), an overall lack of energy, and the immune system can becomes less effective, leaving a bird more prone to illness.

Five contributory factors

The sun’s rays naturally increase the levels of beta-endorphins and serotonin in the brain, and it is thought that if the levels drop in winter, or these chemicals are not functioning properly, it can cause depression.  Beta-endorphins are what we have a rush of, if we feel excitement, eat sugary foods or drink alcohol.  Serotonin has many functions, but the one relevant to the condition of SAD, is that it is present in the central nervous system and also contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness.

A third chemical melatonin is also thought to be a contributory factor to SAD.  When it is dark, the pineal gland in the brain produces this hormone, making a parrot want to sleep, and when it becomes light again, it stops producing melatonin, and the bird wakes up - animals that hibernate produce very high levels of melatonin.  Parrots with SAD are thought to produce higher levels of this hormone in winter, due to the increased darkness hours and poor quality of light.

The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the brain also plays a part in setting the body clock by noticing whether it is daylight or not.  One theory is that if it becomes faulty it can slow down the body clock, compromising sleeping patterns, causing lethargy and depression.  A vitamin D3 deficiency can also contribute to depression, and it is thought that a combination of all of these factors could possibly be activating a genetic weakness and triggering SAD.

Preventative measures

Bright avian UV lighting, ten times the intensity of domestic lighting, is the single most effective treatment.  It increases the release of beta-endorphins and serotonin, encourages the levels of melatonin to drop, and also helps reset the body clock, going a long way to alleviate the symptoms of SAD.  Using avian UV lighting can be effective after just 3-5 days, but the benefits provided by the lights needs to be continued on a regular daily basis.

Full spectrum avian florescent lighting or avian UV lights are known to help improve the health of a parrot’s glandular system, including the thyroid, pineal gland and hypothalamus.  Daily exposure of 1-2 hours for Australian parakeets and lovebirds, 2-4 hours for South American parrots, and 4-6 hours for the majority of African parrots is a guide, but seek advice for your particular species.  But, as with bright sunlight, remember to provide good quality shade too.

Having pale colours within the home that reflects the light from outside can be helpful to indoor parrots.  It is also important to keep them active and exercising, best achieved by providing ample fresh branches and by flying.  A good diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables is vital, and eggfood fed all through the winter is also important in providing vitamin B12, thought to be helpful in suppressing this condition.

Avian UV lighting can also greatly benefit aviary birds during the winter and can be fitted in their inside housing.  Birds ideally should be provided with 12 hours daylight, and 12 hours darkness.  Not only does the light benefit them, but it allows them to exercise for longer, eat more, and more easily keep warm.

An electrical outlet timer to automatically deliver appropriate full spectrum lighting can be very helpful.  Automatic dimmer switches also work well to help simulate sunrise and sunset, waking the birds gradually and more naturally, and allowing them to settle and prepare for sleep.  Aviary birds have the advantage that they are outside benefiting from the sun on the brightest days, but it is important to ensure their stress levels are kept to the minimum.  The main causes of stress are over-crowded conditions and inadequate protection from cold, wet and windy weather.

*For more in-depth information, and other reasons why the sun’s rays and UV lighting is so important for our parrots, please refer to Parrots magazine articles including ‘Amazon Parrots: The correct provision of Light’, October 2014 and ‘The Importance of the Sun’, November 2009.

17 Oct

Twelve things essential to my birdkeeping

Twelve things essential to my birdkeepingBy EB Cravens

In my hobby breeding and pet-keeping, I have discovered many items I consider critical to have on hand and use in order to maintain the health, well-being and optimum development of the psittacines. Here are the 12 prime examples:   
1)      Spirulina. This is a favourite nutritional supplement. I have used it for 16 years. It is an excellent source of vitamins and serves to keep feather sheen high. An immune system builder, especially in flocks that do not eat many green veggies. Rumours have said one can feed too much spirulina, but I always use it sparingly like salt, so I have had no problems.
2)      Fresh Aloe Vera. This means a plant in the house! Absolutely the best immediate response to a bruised cere, scratch, itchy skin or other topical injury including eyes, beak and feet. Slit the stalk length-ways and rub sticky gel over the hurt. Will stop most bleeding, seals like a spray-on bandage. Use it on yourself too; quickens healing.
3)      Vitamin E gel capsules. This is another prime skin healer. But I use Vitamin E oil to help with dry flaky skins, brittle beak flaking, and especially for constricted toe syndrome in dry climes. Absorbs quickly so apply every two hours. Will suffocate scaly mites on cere and has cured fungal skin infections under wings in humid conditions. Excellent oil to use on severely plucked parrots to encourage follicles, and can be fed internally to treat feather brittleness, though for such use I prefer wheat germ oil. Poke gel capsule with pin and squeeze gently.
4)      Citris Bioflavanoid (grapefruit seed extract). My number one holistic medicine. Anti-microbial, anti-fungal properties.  I use as an anthelmintic to expel parasites or routine worm my ground species of parakeets. It is the first resort whenever a bird shows fever or infection and can be used in its dilute form to mix baby formula in cases of slow crop or e-coli. Topical steriliser, mouthwash, earbath, and my staple as a syringe and spoon soaker and utensil wash stronger than normal soap/ water. Recommended as a sprouts soak, but I only use if they smell musty or sour. Order through China Prairie Co.
5)      15cc Syringes. The small ones with a blunt-clipped nozzle are my favourites for all birds up to eclectus size. They expel baby food slower and safer into the beak rather than forcing it down throat, thus guarding against aspirations and stimulating parrots to swallow and move sooner toward eating with mouth. Takes four loads of food to fill a 50cc crop, but that means babies get fed 'round and round' in series and have time to rest and prepare while sibling is getting squirted. Try 'em!
6)       Quinoi. Optimum health food grain with complete protein amino complex. Wonderful regular addition to small passerines birds' diets. Can be ground in blender to powder to give bulk and hull fibre to enhanced baby food once chicks are feathered out. Also will pass through syringe if sprinkled into formula while mixing, giving whole food texture. Sprouts overnight in 12-16 hours. Treat gently to not bruise sprouts. Wonderful grain that tastes nuttier than millet when cooked.
7)       Large-handled baskets. Essential to all my birdkeeping. Perfect for raising chicks in cool, chewable, organic, environment. Easy to climb up upon offering bottom, edge and handle as three stages. Invaluable fledging tool as parrots will recognise all large brown baskets when raised in one and choose to fly to them rather than crashing around the room. Perfect table perch for pets, moveable and droppings are caught in bottom on towels. Wash in shower with toilet-style brush. Travelling perches or home-away-from-home for fledglings. I wouldn't raise chicks any other way.
8)      Zupreem Monkey Biscuits. Have used this product on and off with birds since 1980.  Never had a sickness due to this primate formulated food, but then I always scald them with poured boiling water to soften, then wait for them to cool. I do not feed them dry. They are used for birds who need extra weight putting on or older babies in a box who eat five times a day and love soft warm additions, and for sick birds who will not eat anything else but love the taste of these. Most large birds like them, but note, I only give this as a special occasion, emergency or special use food.
9)      Hollow Logs. Invaluable training and play tool. Teaches timid breeders about darkness in perfect timing before nestbox given. Birds love to chew and such. DO feed it to chicks. Open ends allow conures and other cavity nesters in captivity to sleep protected but not to cycle eggs when box is removed in off season.
10)   New Zealand perennial vine spinach. My staple green throughout the year. Parents with young chicks absolutely love the green bud nodules and stems. Give as rich green to veggie eaters and chop up stems in morning foods. Leaves are usually discarded. Grows year round.
11)   Baby bird fledging-weaning cage. The discovery of the benefits of this addition to the hobby breeder has changed my life and the lives of my parrots. Chicks are introduced shortly after indoor flying becomes regular. They learn to fly and eat when you come in and syringe feed them at the elevated feeding station where they will also perch. Offspring wean faster and smoother and have more fun in the greenery which they eat and chew. They drop less weight because baby fat turns to muscle, and more. This item I now consider absolutely necessary at any state-of-the-art avicultural facility - and it saves the keeper time and cleaning effort.   
12)   Fresh Palm Fruits. This is a recent addition to my essentials list. Obviously I am living where I can find and harvest these, but the way my wild-caught pairs voraciously dove into these oily fruits, and the way other handfeds in my flock followed suit have convinced me that feeding palm fruit has definitely enhanced my nutritional programme. As an aside I do not consider pure palm oil as a suitable substitute for fresh fruit.
I hope this list has given you all some ideas

10 Oct

Choosing a second bird

A second bird EB Cravens describes his favourite choices of parrot for introducing as a companion for an existing bird.

One of the difficult points of being a pet psittacine owner is when you decide to purchase or adopt another parrot in hopes of it becoming an acquaintance to your bird.  This can be especially difficult if you own a jealous or possessive type.
If not undertaken carefully, such a move can bring discord into a normally calm avian home.  In addition, there are certain species of psittacine which often may be better accepted as the ‘newcomer’.  Here are my favourites:

Cockatiel - A social flock orientated bird which shows almost no aggression and biting.  Males can be a bit merrier and will sometimes prefer more preening and touch.

Budgerigar - Much the same as the cockatiel but in a smaller package.  They are chatty and mischievous around birds they come to trust.

Princess of Wales Parakeet - A great choice as a buddy for small to mid-sized parrots.  They do not bond tightly so they are seldom jealous themselves.  Males will court members of the opposite gender.  Slightly more savvy than most cockatiels but with the same flock social norms.

Plum-headed Parakeet - Very tolerant and benign when around other species provided they are given enough uncrowded space. Lovely personalities, well-behaved and unlikely to bond tightly to your bird.

Derbyan Parakeet – Another in the Ring-necked genus, in fact many of the Asiatics, except maybe some Moustached Parakeets, fit well as companions for other birds. They are non-preeners, usually non-aggressive if housed near a calm, sedate species, not an Amazon that wants to wrestle, and when brought up right are content to just be there.

Eclectus male - A well-raised Green Eclectus is patient and tolerant of other birds in its space. It will not want to play and allopreen, hence it will keep its human contact and not steal the heart of your psittacine by over-bonding.  If this species has a down side, it is the baby phase, just before weaning, when they can be irascible and slightly territorial.  I prefer getting them younger or older than this.

Peach-faced Lovebird - I have seen some of these little packages social with small Conures and Tiels.  Males especially can be endearing and non-aggressive when they have grown up with another small bird.  They will preen and play, but mating attempts are not usually an issue with totally unrelated genera.

Umbrella Cockatoo - One of the real love sponges among the white parrots.  Babies are mostly gentle and in need of a friend so this is a great possibility if your pet has the open-mindedness to accept a bird of such size and presence.  It is essential to get an Umbrella that has been hand-fed and raised around other species, not just people!

Goffin’s Cockatoo - Another fine choice with the somewhat smaller size range, suitable for larger Conures, Caiques, Mini-Macaws, Timnehs and such.  Goffins are loving, but higher energy than most Umbrellas and thus will spar and roughhouse a bit more. Accordingly, this would be a better choice for an active Amazon than for an Electus.

Quaker Parakeet - A top-notch species of cuddly, loveable psittacine.  As youngsters, these birds are gregarious and flock social, accepting birds of many different types.  As they approach six months, their own possessiveness can kick in, but when handled right , they make reliable companions.  I do not like to put them with say, Conures of a different gender, for fear of over-bonding.  Hen Quakers can be more mellow in this sexual realm.

Rainbow Lorikeet - My favourites are Swainson’s and Edward’s.  I have had more difficulty with Green-naped’s.  These colourful fledglings will bounce and preen and cajole their way into nearly any house parrot’s heart, even more so if the opposite sex.  They take extra care of course, and can bond very tightly if allowed to dominate a living situation with your pet, so keep some space between and maintain control.  But Rainbows absolutely love playing with other birds, any colour and almost any size!

Goldie’s Lorikeet - Another wonderful nectar-eater to befriend small psittacines.  Playful, weak of bite, high energy and tolerant of other parrot’s grumpiness, Goldie’s can spread joy just by being in the same room - especially at bath time!

Blue and Gold Macaw - To my estimation, the most easy going of all the Macaws.  When brought up in an atmosphere of many other psittacine species, these macaws can shine as acquaintances for other large parrots.  The only real danger is the boisterous fledgling males that can inflict unintentional damage with their beak play.  Any time the larger pet parrots are allowed to interact, human supervision is a must.

Okay, that is a basic start.  We could also throw in Bourke’s Parakeet, Patagonian Conure, Timneh African Grey and some individual Blue-headed Pionus.

Now for a few ground rules.  Parrot acquaintances must always be judged as safe and compatible with regard to beak size.  No matter how well you trust your twosomes to get along, a Macaw with a Conure or a Moluccan Cockatoo with a small Amazon is asking for the little guy to get bumped around or worse.  Use common sense as to size, weight, beak strength and rambunctiousness!

Try to arrange the friendships between distantly related species.  Two South Americans like Quaker and Sun or Amazon and Yellow-collared is asking for sexual attitudes once puberty arrives.  Some of our nicest matches were Rose-breasted with Yellow-naped, Timneh with mini-Macaw, Goffin’s with a Caique and a Lovebird with a Conure.  Lorikeets seem to fit with anything.

The best bet is to bring a non-threatening baby or young fledgling to an established household.  Be aware of gender.  A hen red-tailed grey may be a perfect spicy fit for a male Electus.  A male Blue-fronted Amazon will be well aware that his friend is a female Goffin and a boy Eleanora may be the perfect fit for a hen Blue and Gold.

Never choose your bird without knowing precisely how the psittacine was brought up.  There are so many parrots out there that have never experienced the pleasure of being preened by another bird.  They look to humans for 100 per cent of their affection needs.  I have found these to be practically useless as far as a friend for my birds.

Finally, be aware of the critical importance of introduction day.  Here is where experienced counselling will be invaluable.

26 Sep

Apple Cider Vinegar

Cider Apple Vinegar- an ancient remedy still relevant today

By Pauline James

Organic apple cider vinegar has long been used as an alternative treatment and remedy for a wide variety of conditions and infections, due to its potent antibiotic, antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties.  But, with the upsurge of modern medicines and antibiotics in recent decades, its advantages and uses have rather been forgotten.
The main advantage of using natural apple cider vinegar as a healer is that its usage does not produce side-effects, or destroy the good bacteria in the body, like antibiotics.  It is also cheap to buy, easy to use, and can be sprinkled on soft-food or fruit, on a daily basis, to boost health and increase fertility levels.
There are many conditions that can be helped, by taking diluted apple cider vinegar orally, or by applying it directly to an injury on a swab.  A regular daily treatment of
1/4-1/2 teaspoonful, depending on the size of parrot, taken in food or diluted in water with perhaps a little honey dissolved in it to make it more palatable, is about the right dosage, but double-check with an avian vet first, before beginning any treatments.

Here is an example of some of the ailments that apple cider vinegar has been known to treat successfully.  It may not work in every instance, but its success rate is high enough, for it to be worth giving it a try.
Fatty tumours:  Galahs, older Amazon parrots, Australian parakeets and Budgies are all particularly vulnerable to suffering from Fatty Liver Disease, which can culminate in a large external growth known as a Fatty Tumour.  This condition mainly affects over-weight parrots, and those on a nutrient-deficient diet, and removal surgery is usually required.

An overgrown beak, or oddly-coloured, lack-lustre feathering can be signs that a bird is suffering FLD.  The parrot should be encouraged to exercise, fed a nutrient-rich, low-fat diet and offered apple cider vinegar.  After a few weeks of on-going corrective treatment, fatty tumours have been known to completely disappear.
Gout:  Although there is no scientific proof that apple cider vinegar can help gout, many human sufferers have attested to its effectiveness.  Gout is a form of arthritis that causes intense pain in the joints, and in parrots is most prevalent in the lower legs or feet.  The area can become red and inflamed, and symptoms can occur suddenly.  Soak cotton wool in undiluted apple cider vinegar and wrap it around the affected area for around 15 minutes, or immerse foot or joint in a warm bath of 1-part vinegar, 3-parts water.
Fungal infections and dry, itchy skin:  Apple cider vinegar can be very effective for internal or external fungal infections and dry, itchy skin, usually caused by a vitamin A deficiency.  So along, with a vitamin A-rich diet, a light spray of diluted vinegar over the plumage, and directly onto the affected area, can work wonders, and is far less evasive than anti-fungal creams.  It will also act as a repellent for lice and mite, and make their plumage shine.  A few drops of apple cider vinegar given orally in a drink, or in their food, can help get rid of internal fungal infections.

03 Oct

Does your parrot eat its greens?

GreensBy Pauline James

It is essential that all parrots have a good quality mixed diet, and fresh, dark green leafy vegetables can play an important part.  But, what do you do if your parrot flatly refuses to eat its greens, which provides a myriad of health benefits, including the all-important vitamins A and K?
Here are six great ideas to get a parrot eating fresh, leafy greens:

  • Weave whole leaves in and out of the cage bars, level with the top perch, to attract the bird’s attention, and make it curious.
  • Pierce broccoli on a 'parrot' skewer and hang in the cage, which will provide wholesome food as well as some fun.
  • Chop greens up into small pieces and mix into a favourite food, such as egg food or sweetcorn.  Start with a small amount and gradually increase the quantity, as the bird gets used to the taste.
  • Make up a green leaf parcel in front of the parrot with a tasty morsel inside, so that the bird has to tear at the leaf to get at the treat inside.  Secure with a bird-safe leather tie.
  • Nibble at green leaves enticingly in front of your parrot, to tempt him into trying them too.
  • Chop greens into small pieces and bake them in a protein and vitamin A-rich birdie bread.  This is a very palatable way for a parrot to eat lots of nutrient-rich foods, if he is a picky eater. 

Here is a quick and easy recipe for


1 large fresh pumpkin or sweet potato, cubed and pre-boiled
1 tin sweetcorn, drained
1 doz eggs beaten + shells ground up
3 cups wholegrain flour
2 cups rolled oats
½ tsp baking powder
1 cup of freshly chopped greens
1 cup of fresh, chopped walnuts
1 chopped red pepper
Preheat oven to 425°F or 220°C.  Thoroughly mix all the ingredients together and add enough water to make the mixture into a thick pancake-like consistency.  Line four loaf tins with greased tin foil, and divide mixture between them. Cook for around 20-25 minutes until golden brown.  Test that the loaves are cooked by inserting a skewer into the centre of each one, and ensure it comes out clean.  Chop up and freeze until needed, and offer warm.

19 Sep

Parrots just love pine cones

By Pauline James

Pine cones of all shapes and sizes make great natural treats or playthings for parrots, and apart from a little time spent collecting and cleaning them, they cost nothing!  The cone’s multiple woody scales make them easy to hold and manipulate, and as a bonus, each one contains an edible seed, safe for parrots.  But, even if not appreciated as a food, parrots just love rolling, chasing, chewing and tearing pine cones apart!

The best time to collect pine cones, typically from spruce or pine trees, is generally in early autumn.  It is important to gather them as soon as possible after they have fallen to the ground, and before the October rains arrive.  Cones need plenty of rain, to grow and develop on the tree, but once they have fallen to the ground, attract fungal and moss spores, harmful bacteria and insects, if they get rained on, day after day.

Go prepared with a bucket or plastic shopping bag, as pine cones often exude a sticky sap, and cotton bags or wicker baskets can get spoilt.  Select only the youngest, firmest, lightest-coloured and driest cones, and avoid those that are wet, slimy, or sticky, or show signs of mould or mossy growths.

Once home, cones can be soaked, washed, and rinsed to get rid of any excess sap, invisible spores, or insects, particularly earwigs hiding inside, or baked in the oven, to render them parrot-safe.

pine-conesTo wash, empty cones into the kitchen sink and cover with warm water, anti-bacterial liquid soap and a little avian disinfectant, and leave to soak for 45 minutes.  Then, thoroughly rinse each cone under the running tap, if any remain sticky, repeat the process.  Once clean, lay the cones out, and leave to dry naturally in the sun.

For the second ‘cleaning’ option, line your largest baking trays with tin foil (to protect them from the sap) and place in an oven pre-heated to 200°C.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until the sap has dried-out and lost its stickiness.  Keep an eye on them, and don’t raise the temperature further, otherwise they may scorch, or even catch fire!  Then, turn the oven off, leaving the cones insitu for a further two hours, to thoroughly dry out and cool.

Very often it is the simplest things that parrots love the most, and natural pine cones, accessible to everyone, are guaranteed to keep them amused for ages!

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