12 Sep

Coconut milk

A good alternative to cow’s milk?

By Pauline James
 
Cow’s milk in theory is a good medium to provide protein, vitamin D, calcium and to soften foods such as wholegrain bread in order to make it more nourishing and easier to eat for parrots.  Bread soaked in milk was often fed as a rearing food before the introduction of eggfoods and some breeders still feed it.  But in practice, the amount birds consume should be strictly limited as they cannot digest cow’s milk as readily as humans.  So, what about coconut milk?
 
What is coconut milk?
Coconut milk is not the juice found inside a coconut, but is the diluted cream pressed out of the thick, white flesh of a well-matured coconut.  Good quality coconut milk is pure white in colour and tastes rich, creamy and mildly sweet with the essence of coconut.  It should have a complexity and depth of flavour to it, and leave no unpleasant aftertaste.   The colour and its rich taste can be attributed to its high oil content.CoconutEven though pre-packed pure coconut milk sold in supermarkets is not fresh, and nutritionally not as good as fresh coconut milk, it is still an excellent and nourishing food.  It is the perfect dairy-free alternative to cow’s milk, and lacks the lactose which bird’s find difficult to digest.  Powdered coconut milk or the waxy condensed blocks that require blending with water are inferior products and not recommended.
 
Only good saturated fats
Coconut milk contains a high level of good saturated fatty acids and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), which do not require bile acids for digestion and are easily metabolised and burnt off by the body.  MCTs are therefore beneficial in helping to control weight gain, a problem often attributed to sedentary companion birds.
 
Coconut milk is a rich source of manganese, copper, potassium, phosphorus, dietary fibre and selenium, an important antioxidant which helps to relieve the symptoms of arthritis.  In addition it also contains calcium, vitamin B1, B3, B5, B6, folate, vitamin C and E, and protein.  In fact it is such a nutrient-rich food that Johannes van Overbeek discovered back in 1943, that coconut milk could actively encourage plant growth, and when coconut milk made up 10 per cent of the substrate growing wheat, there was a substantial improvement in yield.
 
Used in the treatment of AIDS
There are two grades of coconut milk, thick and thin.  Thick milk or coconut cream is the result of squeezing grated coconut flesh using specialised machinery.  The squeezed pulp is then soaked in warm water and squeezed a second or third time to achieve thin coconut milk.  Manufacturers of coconut milk typically combine the thin milk with the cream and water to make the final product, but some brands are of a much higher quality than others.
 
This milk has the advantage of also being cholesterol-free, with most of its saturated fat content being lauric acid.  This saturated fatty acid is found in abundance in human breast milk, but only 3-4 per cent is found in goat’s milk and even less in cow’s milk.  It is important in producing good cholesterol and creating a more favourable blood cholesterol profile, helping to support a healthy cardiovascular system.

This milk also has important antimicrobial properties to aid the digestive system, is anti-carcinogenic (reducing the risk of cancers) and anti-pathogenic (reducing the risk of disease).  The potent antiviral, antifungal and antimicrobial effects of coconut oil are used in the treatment of Candida, and more recently in the fight against AIDS.
 
Avoid buying tins...
Fresh coconut milk is rare outside the tropics and most consumers buy it in cartons, bottles or cans.  Opt for cartons or bottles, as buying milk in tins has a question mark over it.  Bisphenol A (BPA) used in the manufacture of the can lining can leach into foods which are acidic, salty or fatty, and coconut milk contains fat.

BPA is an organic compound used to make polycarbonate polymers, epoxy resins and plastics, and is controversial because it exerts weak, but detectable, hormone-like properties.  This raises concerns about its presence in food packaging and the potential damage exposure could do to foetuses, infants and young children.
 
Make your own
Coconut milk can also be made at home, with coconut flakes or shredded coconut, a blender and cheesecloth.  Steeping the coconut in hot water will soften it, and extract the oil and aromatic compounds.  When cool, place it in a liquidiser or blender and then filter the liquid through the cheesecloth.  This milk, with a fat content of 17 per cent, like all other natural milks which have not been artificially homogenized, separates when refrigerated, with the thicker natural coconut cream rising and setting at the top.

Coconut cream can also be purchased and blended with water to make coconut milk.  Making up small quantities of your own milk can be advantageous, as once a carton of coconut milk is opened even when refrigerated, only lasts for a few days, and does not tend to freeze well.

05 Sep

Parrots adore chillies

Chilli- and the spicier the better!
 
By Pauline James

Birds are different to mammals in that they can tolerate fresh, red-hot, spicy chillies, which provoke in us, a strong irritant, and acute burning reaction, from our sensory system.  In fact, the effect of fresh chilli in our mouths or eyes can be so over-powering that sprays containing capsaicin, the active ingredient in chillies, are used to repel grizzly bears and elephants in certain situations in the wild.  But parrots, positively relish chomping away on a whole jalapeno, tabasco, or the much hotter, habaneros peppers, and consume not only the spicy flesh, but the highly pungent seeds too!

The chilli pepper genus Capsicum, comprise about 25 species, of which five are regularly cultivated.  All wild chillies contain varying amounts of the chemical capsaicin and related compounds.  Sweet or bell peppers are cultivated varieties that have been selected for their low capsaicin content.   Capsaicin is not a protein, but a nitrogen-containing lipid related to vanillin, the main active ingredient in vanilla.  The higher the concentration of capsaicin, usually found in the smallest red chillies, the hotter they are.  The hotness of chillies is measured in ’Scoville heat units’ (SHU) and on this scale a sweet bell pepper scores 0, a jalapeno pepper 2,500-4,000, a tabasco 30,000-50,000, and a Mexican habaneros 200,000-500,000!
 
Why chillies are hot
There is an evolutionary explanation, as to why birds are impassive to capsaicin.  When birds consume the fruits and seeds of chilli plants growing in the wild, they distribute the whole seeds in their droppings over a wide area.  Mammals, chew their food more efficiently and the seeds would not survive their journey through the digestive tract.  Therefore, it is in the plant’s best interest that its seeds be ingested by birds, not mammals, and the presence of a compound that irritates mammals, but not birds, greatly increases the chances of a fruit being ingested by a bird.  Some varieties of chillies are even known as ‘bird peppers.’

Chillies also evolved their spiciness as a defence mechanism, to deter the destructive Fusarium fungus, especially virulent in wet climates, from feasting on the chilli’s flesh and seeds.  In dryer areas, non-spicy chilli plants are far more common, as these fungal defences are less important.  Instead, the plant puts its energy into being as water-efficient as possible, rather than producing heat, and possesses fewer pores on their leaves, minimising water vapour loss, helping them to thrive when water is scarce.  As a result, these non-pungent chilli plants flourish in water-stressed conditions and produce twice the number of seeds, of pungent plants found in dry conditions.
 
Health benefits
Chillies and peppers contain many health promoting and disease preventing properties.  Capsaicin their main active ingredient is antibacterial, is an anti-cancer agent, has anti-diabetic properties, reduces LDL cholesterol levels, increases blood flow and provides euphoric endorphins in the blood stream, boosting a parrot’s feel good factor.  It also has astringent and counter-irritant properties, is a natural digestive aid, and an effective pain-killer.

Chilli peppers also contain high levels of flavanoids, vitamin A, including beta carotene, alpha carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and cryptoxantins, higher levels of vitamin C than a lemon, and possesses many of the B-complex group of vitamins, including: niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), riboflavin (B2) and thiamin (vitamin B1).  Chillies also contain high levels of minerals, such as potassium, manganese, iron and magnesium.

Cayenne pepper, chilli powder and paprika...
Cayenne pepper is made from a blend of ground mixed chillies, which are generally rated at around 30,000-50,000 SHUs.  Parrots love the taste, and will often try new and unfamiliar foods if cayenne is sprinkled over the top of it.

Pure chilli powder, also made from a blend of mixed chillies, could be offered, but beware of brands that have added salt, pepper, cumin, garlic or oregano.

Paprika is made from one particular variety of chilli, and has sometimes gone through a smoking process to give it its distinct taste.  It has a far less complex, one-note flavour, and the more common, milder version, contains little capsaicin, and is graded at 500 SHUs.
 
Beware touching fresh chillies...
A few pieces of dried peppers are often found in better quality parrot seed mixes, but eating them fresh provides a more enjoyable and different experience for a parrot, and offers a higher level of nutrients.

But, beware of kissing your parrot’s beak after feeding chillies!  The best cure for seriously ‘burning’ lips is bathing them in milk or yoghurt.  This dilutes the concentration of capsaicin, and also prevents it having contact with the stomach walls.  Water is not effective, because capsaicin cannot dissolve in it, as it is a ‘hydrophobic’ molecule, repelled by water, but it can dissolve in liquids that contain some fat.  Chilli on your fingers, or on a work surface, can be removed by using hot soapy water.

29 Aug

Cinnamon, the ‘new’ super-spice

Cinnamon sticksby Pauline James

The health benefits of cinnamon are so powerful that even just smelling it enhances the mental and physical wellbeing of humans and parrots!

Cinnamon is one of the oldest known spices and is mentioned in the bible, was used in Chinese medicine centuries ago, and the ancient Egyptians used it as a flavouring, medicine and embalming agent, and considered this spice more precious than gold.  And, although we know it mainly as a baking ingredient, cinnamon is now making a come-back as a super-spice and powerful alternative medicine.

This aromatic, sweet-tasting and warming spice has been credited with boosting brain performance and memory function, lowering LDL cholesterol levels, being anti-inflammatory, an antioxidant, and is also antimicrobial, inhibiting the growth of bacteria and fungi, especially persistent yeast infections such as Candida, that vitamin-A deficient parrots can be prone to.

Cinnamon promotes a healthy colon, regulates blood sugar, reduces the proliferation of leukaemia and lymphoma cancer cells, has an anti-clotting effect on the blood, and provides rapid relief from arthritis.  This spice is also a natural food preservative, with greater potency than most chemical alternatives, and effectively inhibits the growth of the Bacillus cereus pathogen, and E-coli, especially useful when providing eggfood or unpasteurised fruit juices for your parrots.

As a food, cinnamon is an excellent source of manganese, soluble and non-soluble fibre, calcium, fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and other minerals.  It is also iron-rich so its use should be carefully regulated and should not be fed with other iron-rich foods.  Just half a teaspoonful of cinnamon a day benefits humans.

There are around 100 varieties of cinnamon, and all possess three unique healing components cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, and cinnamyl alcohol, plus many other volatile substances, in essential oils found in the brown bark of the cinnamon tree.  When cut into rectangular pieces and dried, the bark curls up to form a quill, or cinnamon stick.  Kept in a tightly-sealed glass container, in the fridge, it will stay fresh for up to three years.

It is important that cinnamon is fresh and organic, and has not been weakened by the effects of irradiation or chemical processing, leading to a significant reduction in its benefits, and in particular its vitamin C and carotenoid content.  Freshly-ground cinnamon, that has an even stronger and sweeter fragrance, remains fresh and aromatic for just six months.

Parrots absolutely love crunching and nibbling on aromatic cinnamon bark, available in 2-3in long ‘sticks,’ and is found alongside other spices in most supermarkets or health shops.  Alternatively, sprinkle ground cinnamon on their fresh food, or offer on a small piece of wholemeal toast, that has first been drizzled with omega-3-rich flaxseed oil.

22 Aug

Aloe Vera … not just a spikey succulent

Aloe Veraby Pauline James

Aloe vera is mainly thought of as a key ingredient in skin products, namely face, hand, foot and body lotions, working as a hydrator, softener and regenerator of the skin, with a unique ability to penetrate up to seven layers of even the hardest skin.  But, it is also a wonderful healer too, of conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and sun-burn, with most ‘after-sun’ lotions relying on aloe vera to ease the discomfort, repair sun-burnt skin and treat minor burns.

In fact, the powers of aloe vera have proven to be so great, that drinking formulas have been produced, and are particularly big business in the US, allowing this potent product to heal from the inside out.  And, the benefits of aloe vera are endless.

Aloe vera provides over 150 health-promoting compounds, including 20 minerals, the most strongly represented being calcium, choline, sodium, iron, potassium, chromium, magnesium, manganese, selenium, copper, phosphorus, and zinc, and even more significantly contains the trace minerals rhodium and iridium, which are currently being used in research experiments for use as a cancer treatment and a non-evasive means of inhibiting the growth of tumours.

It also contains acemannan, which improves cellular metabolism, and regulates the flow of nutrients and waste in and out of cells, destroying parasites, fungus, viruses, bacteria and tumour cells.  Acemannan has also been separated from aloe vera in research laboratories and is in the early stages of being used to combat AIDS and feline leukaemia.

Aloe vera also has 12 anthraquinones, which stimulate the bowel, have antibiotic properties, and break up toxic residue, pus and lifeless cells, from wounds, ulcers and other growths, and flush them out, by improving circulation and increasing the blood flow to the region by dilating the capillaries.

Enzymes stimulate metabolism, support, heal and cleanse the digestion system, including the colon, helping to maintain optimum body weight, and improve the level of nutrients absorbed into the bloodstream.  They also prevent water retention, are analgesic, anti-inflammatory and aid the immune system.  Aloe vera is also antioxidant-rich, providing a further boost to the immune system by detoxifying the blood, and helping to combat free radicals in the body.

This herbal healer also contains salicylic acid which is an aspirin-like compound with 12 different anti-inflammatory substances.  It is also an analgesic and antipyretic, capable of reducing fever and pain.  It also has antibacterial properties, killing more bacteria and germs in the mouth than any other product, when taken as a drink, and it also supports joint function and muscle mobility.

Saponins, with strong cleansing and antiseptic properties are also present, and perform robustly as an antimicrobial, against bacteria, viruses, fungi and yeast.

This amazing herbal gel also contains 12 vitamins including A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, folic acid, C and E, and even more amazing, it contains 18 out of 22 amino acids, more than any other known plant.  Amino acids combine to produce vegetable proteins, and even more remarkably aloe vera contains all eight essential amino acids that cannot be produced by the body, and need to be taken in food or drink.

There are 200 varieties of aloes growing in sub-tropical climates around the world, but the best for health and nutrition is the pure clear gel of aloe barbadensis miller, commonly known as aloe vera or ‘true’ aloe.  Aloe Vera Gel produced in the US, is the most consumed and purest aloe vera juice in the world, but Lifestream Aloe Vera Juice produced by Xynergy is available in the UK, and Holland and Barrett also have a range of excellent aloe vera juices.  Just 2-4 fl oz taken twice daily is said to help a person maintain good health and feel energised, so parrots benefit hugely, from far less.

Aloe Vera gel should only be attained from plants at least 3-4 years old, to gain the greatest benefits, and they need to be grown in a frost-free environment.  Although the gel can be used externally straight from the plant, to hydrate the skin and ease skin irritation, particularly relevant to parrots that feather-pluck, it is recommended that the purest form of juice be sourced, to offer it to a parrot orally, completely risk-free.

15 Aug

Ginger: its medicinal benefits

Ginger plant

by Pauline James

Ginger has been used by the Chinese for nearly 2,000 years for the treatment of nausea and motion sickness and is even hailed to be more pungent and effective than modern-day travel-sickness medication.  It also reduces all the associated symptoms of dizziness, vomiting and cold sweating too.  One ‘old wives’ tale’ even dictates, if you feel nauseous in pregnancy, lie down and eat ginger biscuits...!  But the great thing with ginger is that it has no derogatory side-effects, and a little goes a long way.

Ginger is mainly grown and produced in Jamaica, India, Fiji, Indonesia and Australia, and is the aromatic, pungent and spicy underground knobbly rhizome of the ginger plant with a firm, ridged texture.  The flesh of the ginger rhizome can be yellow, white or red in colour, depending on the variety.  It is covered with a light brown skin that can be thick or thin, depending on whether the plant was harvested when it was mature or young.

How to use
Pour a cupful of boiling water over 1-2 peeled, thick slices of fresh ginger root and steep in the hot water for 10-15 minutes.  This produces a mild ginger ‘tea’ which can then be added to food to provide comfort to parrots.  It is a wonderful remedy for chicks being hand-reared, if they are suffering digestive problems or are throwing-up their food.  Just mix the formula with the ginger infusion, rather than water and it will often provide instant relief.  If your parrots must travel and are prone to motion sickness, add this liquid to their food and drinking water, or alternatively add finely chopped ginger and orange juice to mashed sweet potato, several hours before the trip - a few slices of fresh ginger placed in the carrier is also often appreciated.  Parrots seem to have an innate sense of what they need and will often nibble on the ginger to quell their queasiness.  The branches and leaves of the ginger plant are also beneficial to parrots in helping an upset stomach or digestive problems in general!

gingerroot3Other benefits
Ginger also contains potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols.  These substances are believed to reduce the pain of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis and aid mobility if ginger is consumed regularly.  Ginger extracts have also been found to have antioxidant properties and have an anti-tumour effect on cells.  Dietary-wise ginger provides the minerals potassium, magnesium, manganese, copper and vitamin B6.

Fresh or dried ginger?
Fresh ginger is superior to the dried spice and not only has a better flavour, but has higher levels of gingerols, and a greater level of anti-inflammatory compounds.  If dried ginger is preferred, try and select organically grown dried ginger to ensure it has not been irradiated.  A specialist health or spice store is more likely to sell superior and fresher products.  If kept in the fridge in a tightly sealed glass container it can be stored for up to a year.

01 Aug

If your parrot becomes ill

 

Avian vetBeing prey creatures, birds, like many other prey animals, can hide their illness, so owners must be aware if their birds change their normal behaviour.  It might be something in the household that has changed, like a new carpet or change in furniture, but it could be that they are suffering with an illness.

But when this happens, you will probably panic as you may not know what to do or where to take your bird.  It is important, therefore, to anticipate a problem and have the contact details of your nearest avian vet handy.

Your local vet, who mainly deals with cats and dogs, may not have the experience that is required to treat birds.  It is, therefore, important that you know exactly where to take your bird, which might be some distance away, so it may well be better to travel the distance to a vet that is familiar with avian ailments, rather than to take the more convenient route to a local practice.  With contact details in place, you can call the avian vet who will advise the best course of action to take.  It is also advisable to buy a travelling cage or pet carrier, just in case, as if a bird gets sick, there will be little time to act.  There are avian vets listed on our website - click here - or a list is sometimes published in the back of Parrots magazine.

 

08 Aug

Security for new bird owners

Security information for new bird owners

By John Hayward - National Theft Register Co-ordinator

 

As the proud owner of a pet bird whether it be a parrot, cockatoo, macaw or one of the smaller species such as a cockatiel, canary, budgerigar or finch, security is a vital issue. Unfortunately it is a fact that birds become lost or stolen at times. This is naturally both traumatic for yourself and for the bird whose welfare is paramount and therefore the following advice is offered.

Identification – Ensure that your bird is either micro chipped or has a ring, and keep the documents safe. If the bird is lost, you need positive means of identification. In addition, your vet can take a blood sample for future DNA comparison, as there are companies who specialise in this work. Fresh feathers can also be submitted for sexing your bird.

Photographs – Photograph your bird regularly especially if it has any unique features.

In-House Pets – If kept indoors, ensure that all windows and doors are secure, when changing its cage or during exercise periods.  Fit padlocks to cages whenever the house is unoccupied, to deter the ‘casual thief’.

Outside Aviaries

  • External aviaries and bird-houses are particularly vulnerable. Padlocks and Padbars should be fitted, or other similar products as recommended by ourselves to the specialist insurance companies. Padlocks and Padbars – This equipment is made with high-tensile steel and the padlocks are ‘close-shackled’, again to prevent break-ins. Steel sheeted backings to doors is also suggested to give added strength protection.
  • Consider either ‘beam’ or ‘contact’ security systems to activate audible alarms, which are available at most stores. These can now be linked to ‘Dialout’ units to call your mobile phone in the event of a break in.
  • Install additional P.I.R and lighting units. Thieves do not welcome security systems which create noise or illumination.
  • CCTV/VCR equipment can be utilised to survey the exterior from within the home, again at reasonable cost.

NB: Security surveys can be arranged.

In addition, please be aware that even if wing-clipped, your bird can still fly to some extent and many become lost especially as the new replacement feathers are forming.

Finally, I recommend that bird keepers consider insurance cover by one of the specialist companies, especially for theft and vets’ fees.

As Security Advisor, please call my office for any further information on any of the above aspects to ensure a safe and secure environment for your bird.

Tel: 01869 325699, 07802 404929   E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Check out the Parrots Lost and Found Register listed on Parrots’ magazine website http://www.parrotmag.com/parrot-care/lost-and-found-register-2

 

25 Jul

Outside flights

 

Outside flightIf you have a wooden outside flight attached to a solid (concrete or slab) base, you can run into problems with rot if the panels are resting directly on the hard surface.  Water can collect and cause problems.  Raising the flight about half an inch, by using non-corroding spacers, will ensure there is a gap that will allow wet timber to dry out and, therefore, avoid rotting problems.  Similarly with metal flights, the same can be done especially if the panels are painted and where there can be a risk of corrosion.  In all cases, it is advisable to securely fix the flight to a hard base.  Using a hard base, with slightly raised side panels, will make cleaning easy, as well as keeping out unwanted visitors.  But ensure any
space between a flight and
the ground will not allow any
of the occupants to escape!

Photo: Eb Cravens

 

 

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