Ask the Avian Vet

How long can/should birds go without water?

Wilfried Loeding, in his book “The ABC’s of Cockatiels”, published way back in 1979, comments that cockatiels can safely go without water for a couple of days. Firstly, what is your position on this, and secondly, would you recommend add-ing a trace element or vitamin supplement to cockatiels’ or other parrots’ water?

Denying any pet bird free access to water is not recommended. We should be careful about extrapolating from what may occur in the wild with what is acceptable to provide in a pet situation. Water is essential to survival and should be available at all times to all pet birds. Just because a bird ‘can’ go a couple of days without water does not mean that it should.

Recommending the addition of vitamin or mineral supplements to water depends entirely on the bird’s daily diet and what the age, medical or reproductive history of the bird is. Birds that have converted to a diet composed of 40% or better of a high quality pelleted food do not generally need supplements, as these are contained within the pellet.
If starting a water supplement for the first time, remember to begin with a very small amount and gradually work up to the recommended dosage so as not to discourage the bird from drinking its water. Not all supplements are added to the water and sometimes using fresh vegetables or other food items make delivery of a supplement more successful.

Respectfully submitted,
Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Peanut Butter

I have heard and read a few times, that giving your parrots peanut butter will remove metal toxins from their system. Some articles have suggested giving them peanut butter on a regular basis for this reason.

If peanut butter were a perfect treatment for removing metal toxins from birds, treating lead toxicity would be easy! The principle behind using peanut butter is that it will physically help „drag‟ the particles out of the system. In a case where metal toxicity is suspected, a veterinarian should be consulted immediately. Depending on the metal, different chelating (binding) agents will be used in the treatment and ancillary treatments, such as pysillium or products like it, may be recommended to help remove the metal bits from the digestive tract. Interestingly, if you ‘google’ peanut butter and metal toxicities, you can find sites that suggest nickel is found in peanut butter and can actually be a source of ingested metals!! We do not recommend regular peanut butter for birds. However, if used as an occasional treat or to help convert a bird from seed to pellets, we recommend using organic peanut butter to avoid salt and sugar additives.

Respectfully submitted,
Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Overgrown Toenail Quick

If a claw is left too long between clippings can the quick lengthen and if it is too long, can prudent, frequent clipping force the quick to recede to a normal length again?

Yes and yes. The ‘quick’ or blood vessel in the nail will extend as the nail grows longer and will recede if the nails are cut. It is important to note that some nails, no matter how often they are trimmed, seem to ‘always bleed’. This can be normal for the individual bird and sometimes, these birds will do better with a nail filing (to remove the points) as opposed to actual clipping of the nail.

Respectfully submitted,
Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Overgrown Beaks

Why is my African Grey’s beak growing faster than he can wear it down?  Is it something he is eating or something he should be eating and isn’t?

Beaks that overgrow can do so for several reasons and it is recommended that an avian veterinarian evaluate the problem.

Although it may seem simple, clipping beaks at home is not recommended as a badly trimmed beak can bleed, shatter, split or have the sensory portion injured enough to cause the bird pain and discomfort.

Overgrown beaks can be a result of trauma (either to a chick in nest, from hitting a wall or floor beak first or from a inflicted bite from other bird), from poor nutrition, from beak disease (fungal or bacterial infections), beak tumors, genetic abnormalities, liver disease or hormonal surges (a rapidly growing beak meant to be used to hollow out a nesting site). Each cause will have a different work up which should be explored with your avian veterinarian.

In a bird with an abnormal beak, regular beak trimming should be scheduled to prevent excessive overgrowth that may result in shifting of the growth planes of the beak, further disfigurement and TM joint discomfort.

Respectfully submitted,
Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Repeated Yawning

Why do parrots open their beak like they are yawning, sometimes over and over again? Are their nares plugged? Do they need water because food is lodged in their throat?

Opening a beak to ‘yawn’ or stretch the neck is a normal behavior in a bird and is often demonstrated just before settling down to roost for a nap. This is different than a bird that is breathing through its mouth because of plugged nares (nostrils) or because of a foreign body. The nostrils are located just above the rim of the beak. In some birds, like the budgie, the nostrils are obvious openings in the cere. In other birds, like the Eclectus, the nostrils are hidden under feathers and in order to view them the feathers must be pushed back. Any discharge from the nostrils can be seen as either a plug in the nare, as causing the feathers around the nare to become greasy, or as a streak down the beak. A bird with an acute foreign body blockage will appear in much greater distress. A bird with a full or distended crop that is trying to regurgitate or vomit typically bobs the head in conjunction with open beak behavior.

Respectfully submitted,
Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Spring and Summer Tips

As summer approaches, (at least that’s what they tell us is going to happen!), it is appropriate to ‘bird ready’ our pets for the season.  Here are a few spring and summer tips:

A longer day length is a great time to re-try food items you are sure your bird ‘doesn’t like’.  The longer day length coincides with the flush of new growth and new food items a bird would get in the wild and now is a good time to capitalize on this to try new food items.

Harvest new branches for perch material now, when tree pruning is best for the tree and before the trees are sprayed, leafy and full of wild birds.  Remember to wash and disinfect all new branches and if possible, bake them, supervised, at a low heat for 15 – 20 minutes to help kill any microorganisms that may cause health problems in your pet.

Take those large cages out of the house and to the car wash to take advantage of a good power wash.

Re-visit harness training with your bird so that once the weather permits, the bird is accustomed to wearing its harness and going outside is safe and easy.

Plan early for any summer vacation time, whether enlisting friends, family or neighbours or booking with a pet sitting service.

Book your bird’s annual health check now to have health certificates ready and summer wing clips done.

If you take your bird camping (*this refers to camping in a trailer or an RV – tents are a whole different game!!) remember:

  • no wing clip is totally safe when your bird is outside – assume your bird can fly, get an updraft, or run like crazy!
  • to use either a harness or an outdoor cage for your bird when out of the trailer
  • to be wary of predators, both from above (hawks) or below (weasels, martens, or other campers’ pets) and nuisance animals (mice, wasps to sticky fruit)
  • to make sure there is adequate ventilation and that the bird will not overheat during the day
  • to make sure that the unit can lock if you leave the bird unattended (human predators)
  • to buy a ‘visual barrier’ for the door – either made of strips of clear plastic or beads so that something breaks the clear line of vision from the interior of the unit to the great outdoors and thereby acts as a deterrent for the bird leaving its perch to follow you outside
  • to be wary of fumes from camp fires, mosquito spray, heaters, or idling vehicles
  • to be aware that mosquitoes are vectors of West Nile Virus and to use mosquito netting when appropriate and to keep the bird inside on muggy days. West Nile Virus is fatal in all pet birds
  • to consider having your bird microchipped as an identification tool
  • to make a tape recording of your bird making noise – an escaped bird is more likely to return to its own call than to a human’s voice

Have a safe and happy summer!!

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Most Common Reasons for Death?

Birds die for the same reasons that all other species die: disease, cancer, malnutrition, trauma, and old age.

The best prevention?  Start with a wellness exam with an avian veterinarian. Ensure your bird’s nutrition and husbandry is as good as they should be. Make smart choices when mingling birds – many bird diseases can transmit through the air and there are not as many vaccines available for disease prevention as there are recognized bird diseases.

Educate yourself on how to pick up early and subtle signs of disease in your bird to help catch problems early. Control hormonal activity in hens to help prevent the potential toll chronic egg laying can take.  Take precautions against mosquitoes, predators and escape when taking your bird outside.  And remember, just as with your own health, taking a proactive role in the health of your pet bird will help it live a long and healthy life.

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Safest paint to use on a bird cage?

Repainting is never the ideal situation, but in some cases, either to salvage a well designed cage or because a new cage is cost prohibitive, owners may elect to repaint a cage.

If the cage is large, it is recommended that it be taken to a professional for cleaning and powder coating. For a smaller cage, the ‘do-it-yourself’ approach should follow these guidelines.

Preparation is as important as painting and unless all the old loose finishing is removed, the new paint will peel. All metal should be sanded down and primed. Any paint should be lead free, zinc free, contain zero VOC’s (volatile organic compounds), be fast drying, durable, and suitable for metal surfaces.

Once the cage is painted, it should sit empty for at least a couple of weeks in order for the paint to properly dry and develop a hard finish. This is particularly important if a second coat is going to be applied.

The cage should be monitored carefully for any peeling or chipping. It is not recommended that a newly painted cage be covered with a bird in it as residual fumes can be trapped under the cover.

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Kerry Korber

Is masturbation in birds ok?

Is it ok to let my bird masturbate on a toy?

Masturbation is a normal activity for captive birds and to some degree, a harmless activity. However, any bird engaging in masturbation is a bird with elevated hormonal levels and as talked about in many previous postings, hormonal activity is best discouraged in non-breeding pet birds.

In a male, masturbation is usually a non-invasive, non-offensive activity (although I did have one client who told me her budgie liked to sit on her glasses and masturbate on her nose!!) and often does not go further than the act itself. However, hormonal male birds can become territorial and aggressive with regards to the specific toy or the cage
that it is in.

Females that masturbate may not only act aggressively, but can become hormonal enough to start egg laying. Both sexes can obsessively regurgitate to the chosen object.

Based on the basic principle of trying to direct pet bird behavior towards flock activity rather than pair bonding, masturbation should be discouraged. Remove the toy – or, in
the case of the wee budgie, take off your glasses!!

Respectfully submitted,
Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

What species of parrot makes the best pet?

In your opinion, what species of parrot makes the best pet?

This is an age-old question and any veterinarian asked will basically have the same answer. Choosing the ‘best’ pet species, bird or otherwise, is always an individual decision that starts with examining your lifestyle in order to find the pet that best meshes with what you can and are willing to
provide. How much time will you have for your pet? Who will be involved in the care of the pet? Where do you live and how much room do you have for your pet? How much will the pet cost per month (food, caging, veterinary care) and does that fit with your budget? And in the case of parrot ownership, how old are you and how loud a pet can you have – and are you
willing to have – in the space that you live?

Once these questions are answered, the more ‘parrot specific’ questions should be asked. Are you looking for a newly fledged bird or are you willing to adopt a parrot that needs to be re-homed? Are you attracted to brilliant plumage or do you prefer a bird with a great ability to talk? How large a
bird do you want? What sort of bird personality are you looking for? If you are considering a larger, longer – lived parrot, do you have a plan for the care of your bird should it outlive you?

Over the years, I have met a bird from every species that I would adore to have and met its counterpart, that even as an avian veterinarian, I would find challenging to own. The ‘best’ bird species is the one that is going to mesh with the lifestyle of its owner, at the time of purchase, into the
future and for the life of that bird. Talking to an avian veterinarian before committing can help narrow the field of choice and help ensure that the best fit is found.

We are always biased by our own experiences. Personally? Give me an Orange Winged Amazon any day. I love the adaptability, the independence and the smell of their little green Amazon bodies.

Respectfully submitted,
Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Clipping Wings and Nails?

How often should a parrot’s wings be clipped and how often should the nails be trimmed?
Does the size or species of the parrot affect the frequency of either?

Bird grooming, to a certain degree, can be as individual as the bird is. Typically, a parrot’s wings need to be trimmed when the last clip has grown in and the bird is starting to regain flight. This occurs when the bird moults.

In nature, a moult is typically a once a year phenomenon, done to replace the worn feathers with new ones. In captive situations, moulting can be affected by nutritional status, behavior, husbandry and disease, and some birds will partially moult two or three times a year or seem to be continually moulting. As a result, wing clipping needs to be done with varying frequency.

Nail trims should be done when the nail is deemed too long to maintain healthy foot status. Long nails potentially hook in fabric or rope perches, can wrap around the cage bars or be so sharp they pierce the owners skin!! The longer the nail gets, the longer the ‘quick’ or blood vessel in the nail gets. Trimming the nails on a frequent basis will help keep the quick back.

The size and species of a bird does not tend to affect how often wings or nails need to be trimmed. Nutrition, general health and perch quality have a greater role and birds with chronic illnesses, chronic malnutrition, or birds that are old may have prolonged moults and / or longer nails that may need to be attended to more frequently.

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Pet Interaction and Saliva?

Is it appropriate for parrots and other animals (e.g., cats) to interact?  In addition, is there a danger to parrots from animal saliva in the case of a bite? And, is human saliva a danger to parrots?

I was wondering if anyone else was looking at ‘Tweety and Sylvester’ as a potential disaster!!  There are always the stories of the cat that ‘grooms’ the bird, the dog that lets the bird ride on its head, the bird that seeks out the company of the other pets in the household, and I can’t say that these anecdotes aren’t charming; we all love the idea that the ‘lion lays down with the lamb’.  But if we look at pet interaction in terms of the potential problems, it can become much less cute.

As with anything owners should go into a pet interaction armed with information.  It is a fact that instinct is instinct.  A cat may be absolutely benign while ‘playing’ with the bird, but playfulness in cats and kittens often involves extended claws, especially as the game escalates and the ‘toy’ keeps moving.

It is a fact that even a tiny nick in the skin of a bird by a cat’s claw or tooth can inject enough bacteria (that is normal to the cat) into the bird that it can die within 24 hours.  A retriever may ‘soft mouth’ a bird, picking it up and setting it down, but the from the bird’s perspective, it has been snatched into the jaws of a carnivore, only to be dropped wet, cold and possibly bruised!

I would think that a cat ‘harmlessly’ staring into a bird’s cage, ‘but never touching it’ would be like someone threateningly standing outside your front window, but ‘never coming in’.  Your attention wouldn’t be far from the potential threat and your body would continually be flooded with adrenalin in a ‘flight’ response.

So why do birds not act more ‘afraid’ of the family dog or cat?  One could speculate that in the ‘flock’ that is family, the human flock members don’t act as though the animal is a threat and the bird, as a flock member, takes signals from the rest of the flock.  In nature, a bird has the ability to fly away from a threat in a moment (think of the magpies on the road when the car is coming), but at home, many of our pet birds are wing clipped, removing that instinctual escape route and potentially creating a dangerous situation.  And as we all know too well, birds love action. Name me an Amazon that wouldn’t love the ensuing drama of nipping a dog or cat on the nose or tail – I can almost hear the peals of laughter coming from that beak!!

The bottom line has to be this.  If you have a multiple pet household, don’t become complacent.  All pet interactions (and child pet interactions) should be supervised.  Cats and dogs should be discouraged from behaviour that could escalate into something dangerous.  If there is any doubt about what occurred during the interaction, have your bird examined by an avian veterinarian.  And accept that some pets just should NOT be interacting.  The risk is just too high.

And, is human saliva a danger to parrots?

Human saliva can carry bacteria that could potentially be harmful to birds.  We do not recommend ‘sharing’ chewed food or letting a bird preen a person’s lips.

Respectfully submitted

Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Should birds be covered at night?

In general, I think covering a cage at night is good practice. Covering mimics retreating to a nest or to the heavily leaved part of a tree offering the bird protection and warmth for the night. In households where the cage is placed in a room where human activity continues past the bird’s bedtime, covering ensures the bird is not disturbed by the activity around it.

Cage covers should be made of a non-offensive colour to the bird and of a material that cannot be chewed into small fibers. How the cage is covered can vary with the bird’s preferences. A full cover is only recommended if enough light can still slightly penetrate the cover so that the bird is never in complete blackness. Leaving a three to four inch open space down the vertical front of the cage or horizontally around the bottom of the cage allows enough light for the bird and helps prevent a ‘night panic’.

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Dietary Supplements?

Recently I noticed a new dietary supplement for parrots which is based on their ability to self-medicate in their natural environment. The product Herb Salad® is said to help prevent illnesses and deficiencies that can arise from captivity. Would you recommend this as addition to my parrot’s regular diet and what can you tell us about self- medication of parrots in the wild?

I always enjoy a question that directs me to a product that is new to me! Having read about Herb Salad®, I can certainly see how bird owners may be tempted to add it to what they already feed their birds.  It would appear that all the products that show up in the salad are safe for ingestion by birds and I see that the product gets around the fact that not all birds are exposed to all the items in their individual natural environments by suggesting that the bird will selectively eat the items that it needs, when it needs it.  To me, therein lies the debate.

We are all familiar with examples of birds seeking out an item for ingestion (the salt licks in Costa Rica for example) where we know the birds must intuitively be seeking something that they are not getting anywhere else.  But to suggest that the bird ‘instinctively know that medicinal plants are a necessary part of its diet’ seems a bit of an extrapolation.  Whether birds actively seek out specific items, in addition to what they normally eat, in response to ‘not feeling well’ is debatable.  I think that birds can learn to seek an item when the item is available and selectively pick an item if there are choices to be made, but I would wonder whether a bird eats item ‘x’ because it has symptom ‘y’.  If one extrapolates at all from our pet birds, we all know that birds will choose the food item they want rather than the one they need!

Having said that, during times of stress or duress, including disease and traditional medicating, I do not think that it is wrong to ‘boost the immune system’ with natural supplements, keeping in mind that just as with people, one should make sure that the naturopathic supplement is not contraindicated with any medications or supplements that the bird is already taking.  It is always good protocol to run any new supplement past your bird veterinarian prior to using it so that each case can be assessed individually.

The caveat ‘do no harm’ applies.  If you have done your due diligence and you know that the items in the herb salad are not in any way contraindicated in your pet bird, go ahead and offer the herb salad.  It would be an interesting study to find out if the items a bird chooses from the salad are, in fact, items that would naturally be available to that bird or if, given the whole salad to choose from, it selectively picks the items that it likes the taste of best!

Dr. Kerry Korber B.A., D.V.M.

Clay or no Clay…

In your opinion, do parrots in our care require clay in their diet?

Although wild parrots seek out clay licks it is not a supplement that is typically recommended in a captive situation. The presumption is that the wild parrots eat the clay as both a mineral supplement and as a potential detoxifying agent. In our captive birds, nutrition is better controlled and there should be no access to toxic materials.

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Sleep and Parrots

How much sleep does a parrot need?  As we get less and less daylight will a bit more sleep hurt a parrot?

Parrots respond best to a routine and just like any of us, are happier when they are well rested.

We recommend that a parrot get 10 – 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. This is in addition to the normal mid-day snooze that a bird will take. Making use of a bed time cage in a separate room or covering the cage can assist in letting the bird know that it is time to settle down. Many birds get so used to their routine that they ask to go to bed!!

The concern regarding day length should actually be asked the other way round; “as there is more and more daylight, will less sleep affect a parrot ?” One of the things that we know to be true is that day length plays a huge role in the hormonal activity of a parrot and as the day length gets longer, breeding behavior can be stimulated. It is just as important in the summer as in the winter that the bird stays on its normal routine and is put to bed even if it is still light outside.

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Wing Clipping

Too often I see parrots with excessively clipped primary and secondary feathers. Could you offer some basic guidelines on the correct method for clipping a bird’s wings?

I couldn’t agree more. Far too often, we see birds with injuries, both physical and emotional, from poor wing clips. In our practice, we feel each bird should be evaluated individually for the type of wing clip that best suits it.

Factors that should be considered include age, species, weight, and environmental circumstances. In general, the purpose of a wing clip is to prevent a bird from gaining or maintaining altitude. After a wing clip, a bird should be able to gently glide down to a surface. In general we always recommend a symmetrical wing clip (same on both sides). The only feathers that should be trimmed in a wing clip are the primary feathers (the first 10). Wing clips should never proceed into the secondary feathers. Variations of how many primary feathers, how short the primary feathers and in what order the primary feathers are trimmed are determined by the individual bird. Aerodynamic light weight birds such as Conures or Cockatiels will usually need a more aggressive wing clip (cut the first 6 – 8 primaries short in a ‘block cut’) to keep them grounded. Leaving even one end feather per side can be enough for some birds to get lift off! Heavier birds such as Amazons or African Greys often do better with a modified cut, taking some and leaving some of the primaries. We liken it to creating a few ‘holes’ in the wing of plane – enough to glide, but not enough to flap and get loft.

We always recommend birds with new wing clips be placed on the ground to do a few ‘false starts’ and get the idea they cannot fly. It is better to take fewer feathers initially and ‘take more’ as needed (ensuring the bird cannot injure itself) – as there is no putting back what you cut off!! We advise owners to come in for a wing clip demonstration prior to trimming wings at home. This way, the individual bird’s circumstance can be assessed, the best wing clip recommended and owners can be taught how to recognize a blood feather (a new feather that is growing in, has a blood supply and should NEVER be cut).

For birds that are recovering from a bad wing clip, we discourage sitting high on a cage top or on an owner’s shoulder. If the bird is prone to flapping around (young Cockatiels/African Greys) we recommend rearranging the cage so that the bird cannot injure itself on the perches or the floor as it flutters down. Always avoid doing aggressive nail trims on birds with poorly cut wings to ensure that their grip is maximized while their balance is compromised.

Respectfully submitted,
Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Rehome, Sanctuary or Euthanasia?

If a family can no longer keep their pet bird do you think it is better for the bird to be re-homed, placed in a sanctuary or euthanized? There is no single answer to this question as every case is different in its circumstance and therefore, in its solution. Any time a family cannot keep a bird, I would advise involving their avian veterinarian in helping them make what is always a most difficult decision.

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Cleaning Cages?

What are the proper products to clean parrot cages with?

The first product to use cleaning a cage is good old – fashioned elbow grease. Remove food debris, droppings and cage substrate. Dismantle as much of the cage as possible to clean items individually. Always start with soap and hot water. Use a scrub brush to get into corners and to scrub all surfaces of the perches. If there is a grate on the cage bottom, remove it and remember to scrub both sides and all corners of it. Thoroughly clean all the food dishes and toys.

Once the cage is clean, it can be disinfected. A disinfectant only works when it has contact with a clean surface, and then, for a period of several minutes. Commonly used disinfectants can be anything from a diluted bleach solution to more bird friendly disinfectants such as Oxyfresh®. Your avian veterinarian may suggest specific disinfectants if there is concern over a specific disease. After disinfecting, rinse and rinse again before allowing the bird access to its cage.

Don’t forget to clean play gyms and other areas the bird spends time on. Finally, remember to be aware of any fumes a cleaning or disinfecting solution may emit and never mix cleaners or disinfectants as there is always the possibility of a noxious combination.

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Regurgitation or vomiting?

Regurgitation is defined as expulsion of material from the mouth or crop and can be voluntary or involuntary in nature. Vomiting is the expulsion of material from the proventriculus, ventriculus or intestines and is involuntary.

Voluntary regurgitation is typically a social behavior. The bird will bob its head up and down and without much fuss, produce a small lump of food material. On the other hand, a sick bird that is regurgitating or vomiting as a clinical symptom, will violently and uncontrollably eject material from its mouth, often swinging its head around and spraying the sticky contents over its face and head.

Pathologic causes of regurgitation and vomiting include a wide range of possibilities such as toxins, foreign bodies, bacterial, fungal, or protozoal infections, ingestion of oral irritants (such as plants) or rancid food, goiter, GI obstruction, pancreas, kidney or liver problems, motion sickness, excess water intake, egg binding and PDD.

A vomiting bird should be seen by an avian veterinarian immediately.

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Carbonated Drinks?

Although not good for our parrots due to the sugar and other ingredients, does the occasional sip of a carbonated beverage, i.e. 7-up, club soda, have the potential to kill parrots because of the carbonation in the beverage?

The person who asked this question knows the answer already – ‘pop drinks are not good for our parrots due to the sugar and other ingredients’. If you’re having something to drink that you know your bird shouldn’t share (coffee, tea, alcohol, soda pop) – give the bird a safe substitute such as some dilute fruit juice – or duck out of the room and have your drink out of view!!

Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Regular baths?

Since cockatiels come from Australia, where the climate is dry, do they really need to bathe, or have spray baths?  Mine won’t have anything to do with water, in any way, shape or form!  Yet, I know that baths keeps their ‘dust’ down.  Any help?

All birds bathe – it is just a question of recognizing the form that bath takes.  Sometimes, in dryer climates, a bath will take the form of a fluffing around in a dust wallow.  Determining where the bird originates will help determine what kind of a bath it will take.  It is always easy to bath a rain forest bird; every day, in the late afternoon, the sky opens up and a warm rain falls, showering all the birds in the canopy.  We mimic this with the classic ‘spray bottle bath’.

Birds from dryer climates are more of a challenge.  I recall a pair of budgies I had years ago that didn’t like to bath in any of the ways I had offered.  Then one day, in a rush, I put fresh lettuce into their cage, dripping wet.  I heard some flapping and rustling, looked back and the budgies were happily rubbing in the greenery having a bath!  Of course!

Some birds like to run through wet grass to bathe.  Kip, a cockatiel in the practice, likes to have his bath in the ‘swamp’.  His owner takes a pie plate, fills it with shredded lettuce and some water and Kip runs through it, having a splash and a nibble!  Some birds like to stand under a dripping faucet – others, like my canary Chancey,  like to leap in and out of a large hanging water dish.

Some birds dislike direct spray and will do better hanging out in the bathroom when their owner has a shower, picking up the odd droplet, but enjoying the steamy humidity that builds up in the bathroom and yet other birds will go right in the shower and get soaked to the skin!!!  Watch the sparrows in the summer.  If there are no puddles to bath in, they will go through the same bathing motions in a patch of dust.

A ‘bath’ is a bird’s way to naturally help maintain the quality of their feathers – and so each bird innately needs and wants to bath and should be allowed to so.  The onus is on the owner to try and find out which way the bird prefers their bath and sometimes to teach the bird to bathe in the artificial situation of captivity.

Some tips to encourage bathing include: spraying from above, not from the side (rain falls from overhead), using tepid water ( it doesn’t rain hot water!) to avoid drying out the skin, disguising the sight of the bottle by wrapping it in a towel, or disguising the sound of the spray bottle by using a plant misting bottle that can be pumped and primed to slowly release a continuous gentle spray.

Interestingly, many birds are stimulated to have a bath when they hear the vacuum running!

So be persistent in trying a variety of bathing scenarios – and watch closely for cues (like head dunking when the vacuum is running), that tell you which way your bird wants to bathe.

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Kerry Korber Calgary
Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Best temperature for Parrots?

What temperature can parrots safely tolerate in the winter? We turn the heat down at night, what is the best temperature for our parrots?

Most healthy parrots can abide average house temperatures during the day and night .  However, there are circumstances where taking a few precautions is prudent.  Many of us turn down the thermostat at night (with pet birds in the house, stay above 18C – 19C) and because so many homes are now of an ‘open concept’ design with lots of windows, cages in a main living area may get too cold at night.

Having a bedtime cage (this is a good idea for lots of behaviour reasons as well!!) placed in a more confined room or space in the house during the night can offset the chill that can occur in a larger space.  Smaller bedrooms, lofts, bathrooms or even laundry rooms can retain the heat better than an open living space can.  Covering the cage with a heavier blanket (you can determine whether the bird does best with 1?4, 1?2 or full covering), will help keep the heat in the cage.  If the house is older, prone to drafts or just plain cold, providing extraneous heat via a heat lamp or a floor heater may be needed.

Don’t forget to watch your bird for cues – if it is fluffed and huddled in a corner, it is likely too cold!!

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Plastic Products?

Lately, there has been a large amount of press regarding the safety of various plastics for human use.  How safe are the plastic products we use for bird food and water dishes, toys, etc, for our birds?

When in doubt, default to the maxim ‘if I wouldn’t use it, I won’t use it for my pet’.  Plastics, especially as they age and degrade, become harder to clean and as humans are warned, can potentially leach harmful by-products.  As well, plastic can be easy to chew and break into smaller pieces which can potentially be ingested by the bird.  Stainless steel is always a safe choice for bowls and natural products are best for toys.

Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Beak and Feather Syndrome?

Is this a disease which the average parrot owner should be concerned about? What are the symptoms?

Absolutely! All parrot owners should know about Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD).

Psittacine beak and feather disease is caused by a circovirus. This virus causes a wide range of clinical signs associated with progressive feather and beak abnormalities. Birds can be infected by inhaling, swallowing or absorbing viral particles shed in feather dust, crop secretions, and feces of carrier or sick birds.

Old World species (Cockatoos, African Greys, Lovebirds, etc.) are typically birds in which the disease is fatal. New World species (Macaws, Amazons, etc.) can be affected, although the reported incidence of disease is lower and the potential for recovery is more likely. Clinical disease and incubation times depend on many factors, including the species exposed, how old the bird is when exposed, how aggressive the viral strain is, how much of the virus the bird is exposed to, the route of exposure and the health of the bird during exposure.

PBFD can have peracute, acute, and chronic forms. The per-acute form is usually in young birds which typically die due to infection. Because of the rapid nature of this form, there are rarely classic feather abnormalities. Without an autopsy, this form of PBFD can be missed.

Acute PBFD is characterized by depression that may last several days, followed by mild to moderate feather abnormalities. Hemorrhages in the feather shafts and premature molting of abnormal feathers are quite common. These birds often have secondary infections and anemia. Molting often makes recognizing PBFD more evident.

Chronic PBFD is the classically recognized form of the disease and is the result of surviving an acute case of PBFD. These birds typically have missing feather tracts, colour changes to the feathers, feathers that remain in their sheaths, and a loss of powder down feathers, resulting in abnormally shiny beaks. Feather abnormalities may progress at each successive molt and feathers may not be replaced resulting in loss of overall feathers. Beak lesions typically show up late in the disease process and include abnormality in growth and shape with beak tissue that hemorrhages or sloughs. Secondary bacterial infections often occur.

Testing for PBFD includes blood sampling and biopsies. There is no available vaccine for PBFD at this time. PBFD is often likened to diseases that suppress the immune system and open the patient up for secondary infections. In the birds that do not succumb to acute PBFD, death is often the result of secondary bacterial or fungal infections.

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic

Advice for First Time Parrot Owners

I have often wondered how parrot breeders and parrot- selling pet stores can justify selling birds that will outlive the owner. What advice would you give to a potential first-time parrot owner who is considering the purchase of a parrot that will outlive a human lifetime?

The advice I would give to a first time parrot owner would be similar advice I would give to anybody planning to get a pet. Always evaluate the reasons for wanting a pet and then hone in on the pet that best meets that criteria. Size of bird and required cage, ability to talk or sing, general breed personality, neighbours and noise, and of course, life span should all be considered. After that, a person should then evaluate their own life style to see if they can meet the bird’s needs both in the present and in the future.

Circumstances in life change. Children leave home, jobs come and go, couples separate and death is not always predictable. So what happens when a bird outlives its human caretaker? Just as parents plan for their children, bird owners should plan for their birds. It is not fair or reasonable to assume your children, spouse (who, perhaps, the bird has never liked!!) or best friend will want to take over the responsibility of caring for your bird when you are gone. A bird guardian should be appointed prior to needing one – and ideally, considered prior to making the commitment of taking on a long-lived bird.

A caretaker agreement should be made clear in a will or other legal document and can be as spelled out as either party wants. Owners should consider leaving a trust account or financial stipend for the future care of the bird as part of the agreement. And whenever possible, the person named in the agreement should play a role in the bird’s life before it is a forced necessity.

We never like to think of the unthinkable, but having peace of mind that your beloved pet will be cared for means facing the reality that the life span of many of the beautiful parrot breeds can exceed that of us humans.

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic