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Home Remedies for Sick Birds and Optimum Avian Nutrition

Stress, pollution, prescription drugs, the overuse of antibiotics and a poor diet all contribute to the ill health of our birds. Good nutrition is the single most important factor in determining the health, vitality and longevity of our parrots. Because we have taken them from their natural environment, and because they are unable to forage and choose their own foods, it is imperative that we provide them a nutritionally complete diet.

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When A Bird is Not Well...

Bird and dog All bird owners who have their birds best interests at heart are seeking ways to optimize their health. Stress, pollution, prescription drugs, the overuse of antibiotics and a poor diet all contribute to the ill health of our birds. These adverse factors also apply to our health.

When a bird is not well, the healer and owner work together to find the underlying cause and 'cure' it, rather than just eliminating symptoms. Addressing symptoms alone often makes the cause of disease manifest itself in other ways.

One day of illness for a bird is like seven days of illness for a human. So when you first recognize that your bird is ill, it's important to seek help quickly. Buying a general purpose antibiotic at your local pet shop in order to medicate your bird, first allows your bird to become even more ill.

Holistic comes from the word 'whole'. When we look at a pet bird holistically, we consider the bird's whole being, which includes mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. Each of these factors affects health and is taken into consideration when evaluating our bird holistically. Some of these factors include:

  • Diet and nutrition
  • Housing and surrounding environment
  • Social interaction and companionship
  • Physical stimulation, exercise and play

Why Does My Bird Pick Its Feathers?

Medical Causes of a Feather Plucking, Picking and Mutilation in Pet Birds

Julie Burge, DVM

Some causes, not related to any disease,may include:

  • featherless birdBoredom in the very intelligent larger parrot species
  • Insecurity, Stress, or Nervousness (can be caused by a change in daily routine, a new environment, remodeling, other pets, or a new owner)
  • Overcrowded housing: Finches in particular
  • Sexual frustration in a mature bird
  • Overenthusiastic plucking of a brood patch by an egg laying female
  • Excessive courtship behavior: one bird plucks the other
  • Parents picking their chicks to drive them from the nest so they can breed again
  • Inadequate bathing facilities and low humidity
  • Breed predisposition, as in Quaker Mutilation Syndrome

Optimum Avian Nutrition

Commercial Pelleted Diet versus a Fresh, Wholesome Diet

Excerpts below from Avian Nutrition by Alicia McWatters, Ph.D., C.N.C.

For a little over a decade, many bird owners have relied upon what is called a complete, nutritionally-balanced, and manufactured pelleted diet. Feeding a synthetic commercial feed has been touted as the best or better way to feed your bird and as a result has convinced the public at large that it is true. Sadly, our birds are the victims of these pretenses. Bird owners are now beginning to question the true value of these commercial diets, realizing that they are a far cry from resembling anything our birds are accustomed to eating in the wild.

Bird need a diet consisting of as great a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits as possible, with the addition of grains, beans and nuts. A dish of high quality pellets in the cage provides a valuable nutritionally balanced supplement to these fresh foods. They have evolved to survive best on a diet of primarily live, fresh foods and to be able to make wise food choices if allowed the privilege. Our job is to give them the opportunity and the privilege and then walk away, allowing them to do their part and eat the foods they are drawn to on a given day."

"Some birds are experiencing symptoms of vitamin deficiencies/excesses, recurring infections, digestive disturbances, stress-related disorders, or have developed organ damage and subsequently a shorter life-span." Our birds' bodies are adapted to fresh raw foods, such as fruits, vegetable matter, nuts, seeds, sprouts, berries, leaf buds, bee pollen, nectar, insects, larvae, and small vertebrae.

When it comes to manufactured diets, not only are these products primarily made-up of fragmented substances and isolated, synthetic vitamins and inorganic minerals, most do not contain important elements like enzymes, chlorophyll, and other natural beneficial substances which are found in natural foods.

There isn't a commercial food product or nutritional supplement available that can provide our birds with the outstanding goodness that is to be found in Mother Nature's garden. Eating foods, which are naturally produced can offer our birds, and ourselves, the ultimate opportunity to achieve vibrant and long- lasting health."

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Why Birds Need the Right Kind of Fats

Birds need the three essential unsaturated fatty acids (linolenic, linoleic, and arachidonic acids) or EFAs, to keep their skin and feathers healthy, among other benefits. Essential fatty acids require Vitamin E for absorption and nuts provide it in the proper balance. Every living cell in a bird's body needs essential fatty acids for rebuilding and producing new cells. EFAs are used to produce prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that act as chemical messengers and regulators of various body processes. The two basic categories of EFAs are Omega-3 and Omega-6 which contain linoleic and linolenic acids. These are found primarily in raw nuts, seeds and legumes.

Carolyn Swicegood writes "Good nutrition is the single most important factor in determining the health, vitality and longevity of our parrots. Because we have taken them from their natural environment, and because they are unable to forage and choose their own foods, it is imperative that we provide them a nutritionally complete diet. It is my belief that we also owe them an interesting and varied selection of foods from which to choose. I could not in good conscience offer such a curious and intelligent creature only one food, such as pellets, day after day. Another very good reason to feed a variety of foods is that we can use foods as a natural preventative to health problems and many foods can be used as natural remedies once health problems have developed. The following are only a few of the many foods that can be used as natural medicine for our birds."

Leslie Moran, author of The Complete Guide to Successful Sprouting for Parrots: and Everyone Else in the Family writes: "Providing a variety of foods is an important aspect of avian nutrition. Obtaining organic foods and ingredients can have such a positive impact on the health and well-being of your feathered companions."

I hI have seen the best results are achieved when a bird's diet is centered around a mixture of organic sprouts. Sprouts contain a power house of nutrients. During the sprouting process amino acids are altered creating a higher quality of usable protein. Vitamin levels increase dramatically and the minerals present become chelated. This means they combine with protein in a way that makes them easier to assimilate. Sprouts are easily grown at home in your kitchen.

Home business with your pets In addition to sprouts, I suggest also offering an organic bird pellet diet, along with species appropriate nuts, fresh fruits, and raw or steamed vegetables. I blend an organic mixture of whole legumes and beans that after being cooked my parrots truly enjoy. You can also experiment with adding cooked brown rice, or cooked whole grain or vegetable pastas to their meals for variety. Ensure that the water you have access to is free of chemicals and contaminants. Public water supplies are flooded with chemicals and pesticides that can tax the liver and can be stored in the fatty tissues of the body. Use filtered water or bottled spring water for all cooking and drinking. Do not use distilled water for drinking and food preparation.

The Rosco Diet was developed for a chronically malnourished and ill, 45 year old Congo African Gray Parrot, named Rosco, who came to Whitewings Farm on September 10, 2001. After some extensive tests, it was concurred that neither bird had any viral or bacterial problems. Rosco's problems were, however, severe, having been long in developing, and would take some special knowledge and care and implementation in the curing; if they could be cured. >

Following his original person's death, Rosco was relegated to 8 years in a garage, in primarily either darkness or dusky light, and a diet of nothing but wild bird seed, As a result, Rosco had suffered from chronic malnutrition and had permanent physical damage. A twist to his torso from atrophied muscles, totally blind in one eye, and a large cataract with a small tail ending in another dot in the other. Due to a SEVERE calcium an magnesium deficiency, resulting in weakened muscle strength, he was unable to climb much, and spent a LOT of time on the floor of his house. He was also in suspected Chronic Kidney Failure. Our Avian Vet, Dr. Pam let us know, that the ONLY recourse was good diet, and constant care.

Subject: Healthier Bird
Date: Wed, 12 Jul 2000 From: "Connie Penner"

I have part of my own personal experience with our cockatiel that taught me a lesson. Our bird, Star, was laying eggs too frequently and getting worn out. We took her to a vet who claimed he knew what he was doing and I believed him! He gave her a birdie birth control shot! She became miserable! She gained almost twice her weight and became very depressed. She was so heavy that she could not fly!! So I put her on bird seed from a health food store which does not contain any additives. She ate from our fresh organic salads as she chose. And I insisted to my husband that she only be given purified ionized water--not tap! She rested a lot and ate. She lost her weight on her own accord. She started flying and was a happy bird again. And she looked a lot younger! Now she is more healthy and is not having so many problems with laying eggs too often! Her cycle seems well adjusted. Hmh. Humans need these same health rules! I learned something from my bird.

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Warning: Toxic Drugs and Bird Food

"We lost our Lesser Sulphur Crested Cockatoo to Rimadyl last year - and it's not even licensed for avian species, and certainly not for suspected enteritis in any species. We are still fighting our battle against the vet." Christine Chisholm

Class Action lawsuit against Pfizer
The Michelfelders have joined a class action lawsuit against Pfizer. Also participating in the lawsuit is Michelle Walsh. Walsh says she was one of the first to lose a dog. She then helped found a national organization called B.A.R.K.S.

Soy in parrot's diets results in bone and beak disorders

There is evidence that the soy toxins cause both acute and chronic effects in both animals and humans. The industry refers to the soy toxins as 'anti-nutrients' but, in fact, they are classed with environmental toxins and they are present in every food product that contains soy. As often occurs in cases of environmental poisoning, Soy Online Services first became aware of the toxicity of soy because of its effects on animals. The harm that soy causes animals has been known for decades, but this fact currently appears to be ignored by manufacturers of animal feeds who are ever eager to utilize cheap sources of protein in their products. The use of new generation bird feeds that contained soy coincided with thousands of bird deaths and disorders. These effects were widespread and were reported by many of New Zealand's leading parrot breeders. Results such as:

  • Beak and bone deformities
  • Goitre.
  • Immune system disorders.
  • Infertility.
  • Premature maturation.

Bird breeders noted that a common factor in the diets of affected parrots was soy protein. But could the effects seen in parrots be explained by the presence of the soy toxins? Soy is high in phytate, which reduces mineral bioavailability. Upset the delicate mineral balance in a parrot's diets and bone and beak disorders are the result. Soybeans contain high levels of phytoestrogens. Although investigators didn't know it at the time, the compounds are powerful immune-suppressants, potent goitrogens (the goitrogenic effects of soy products are even discussed at length in the text 'Diseases of Caged Birds' - TFH Publications, 1988) and as the name suggests, able to elicit estrogenic effects. Strong candidates then as the cause of the infertility and premature maturation.

Parrots and Other Birds Also Die From...

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Healing Birds Naturally At Home

A growing number of holistic doctors and veterinarians use a natural immune enhancing substance as an alternative to, or in conjunction with conventional medicine, for all types of acute or chronic illness, including cancer. Anyone can order and use these products to improve their health or that of their family or pets.

"I have two pigeons. I just returned from Germany where there was an international show for pigeons. One of my birds became very ill. Its droppings became very watery and green. I decided to try this immune support product. WOW! The pigeon was up and running around like a spring chic." — Layne Bowles

Testimonials of Healing Birds Naturally

"I'm a long-time bird owner with 4 birds: parrot, lovebirds, cockatiel. I never had a sick bird in 27 years. I bought the cockatiel, who had a respiratory infection I wasn't aware of till last month. I took him to the vet who treated him with Baytril (orally) and Tobramycin (drops in nostrils & eye). He's gotten better but hasn't recovered completely, and has been on the medicine for 3 weeks now. He still has nasal discharge and his left eye is clouded. He was tested for Parrot fever and it came out negative. He is 5 months old and 79 grams. I learned about the natural immune enhancing substances natural immune booster that holistic veterinarians use in their practice. I ordered it and gave it to my cockatiel. Within days, he was over his infection!" Jan Shima -

Bird´s testimony - Shimoda

"My ten-year old Caique, Shimoda, was a very beautiful, colorful bird: bright green, orange, yellow, white and black. When he was about three and one-half years old, just beginning his sexual maturity, I came home one day to find my beautiful bird had pulled out all his colorful feathers. He was now down to his all gray down feathers, and looked like he was wearing gray flannel underwear. I panicked. Then I found out that, allopathically speaking, this is common behavior for birds when they reach sexual maturity. Solutions could include making environmental changes, so I changed his cage, moved it, changed his toys, etc. However, on and off for the last six and one-half years he has plucked at his feathers. No matter what I did this didn't change much. I decided to feed Shimoda Blue Green Algae. I started feeding him a mixture of about 1/16 of a teaspoon of the algae and one teaspoon of water. He liked the taste, so he would take dropper after dropper full. His feathers started to grow back and he has been taking it ever since. He now looks beautiful. He seems happy; he is not pulling his feathers and they’ve grown in beautifully. And he enjoys getting his algae." - Carin Segal

Hummingbirds Hummingbirds testimonial - "Last year I decided to feed the hummingbirds since I had spotted a few around my flowers.All summer I couldn't tell if the hummingbirds were feeding or if the solution I had purchased had just evaporated due to the heat. I barely glimpsed a bird or two, but by the end of the week the feeder was usually almost empty. It was a mystery. This year, I decided to continue with the "feeding", but this time( at the suggestion of my daughter) I added a few drops of phytoplankton to the nectar. To my delight, the birds love it so much they are working me to a frazzle trying to keep it filled. I have no trouble seeing the hummingbirds now, because at any given time they are gathered at the feeder taking turns. They seem to be having a great time feasting! - Barbara Taylor

Photos above: This lady lives in a Hummingbird fly zone. As they migrated, about 20 of them were in her yard. She took the little red dish, filled it with sugar water and this is the result. The Woman is Abagail Alfano of Pine, Louisiana - she has been studying them daily and one morning put the cup from the feeder, with water in it, in her hand; as they had gotten used to her standing by the feeder they came over to her hand. She says in touching they are as light as a feather.

Eagle Story - The Power of Healing

Eagle rescued Freedom and I have been together 10 years this summer. She came in as a baby in 1998 with two broken wings. Her left wing doesn't open all the way even after surgery, it was broken in 4 places. She's my baby. When Freedom came in she could not stand. Both wings were broken, her left wing in 4 places. She was emaciated and covered in lice. We made the decision to give her a chance at life, so I took her to the vets office. From then on, I was always around her. We had her in a huge dog carrier with the top off, and it was loaded up with shredded newspaper for her to lay in. I used to sit and talk to her, urging her to live, to fight; and she would lay there looking at me with those big brown eyes. We also had to tube feed her for weeks.

This went on for 4-6 weeks, and by then she still couldn't stand. It got to the point where the decision was made to euthanize her if she couldn't stand in a week. You know you don't want to cross that line between torture and rehab, and it looked like death was winning. She was going to be put down that Friday, and I was supposed to come in on that Thursday afternoon. I didn't want to go to the center that Thursday, because I couldn't bear the thought of her being euthanized; but I went anyway, and when I walked in everyone was grinning from ear to ear. I went immediately back to her dowl cage; and there she was, standing on her own, a big beautiful eagle. She was ready to live. I was just about in tears by then. That was a very good day.

We knew she could never fly, so the director asked me to glove train her. I got her used to the glove, and then to jesses, and we started doing education programs for schools in western Washington. We wound up in the newspapers, radio (believe it or not) and some TV. Miracle Pets even did a show about us. In the spring of 2000, I was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma. I had stage 3, which is not good (one major organ plus everywhere), so I wound up doing 8 months of chemo. Lost the hair - the whole bit. I missed a lot of work. When I felt good enough, I would go to Sarvey and take Freedom out for walks. Freedom would also come to me in my dreams and help me fight the cancer. This happened time and time again.

Natural Pet Supplements Fast forward to November 2000, the day after Thanksgiving, I went in for my last checkup. I was told that if the cancer was not all gone after 8 rounds of chemo, then my last option was a stem cell transplant. Anyway, they did the tests; and I had to come back Monday for the results. I went in Monday, and I was told that all the cancer was gone.

So the first thing I did was get up to Sarvey and take the big girl out for a walk. It was misty and cold. I went to her flight and jessed her up, and we went out front to the top of the hill. I hadn't said a word to Freedom, but somehow she knew. She looked at me and wrapped both her wings around me to where I could feel them pressing in on my back (I was engulfed in eagle wings), and she touched my nose with her beak and stared into my eyes, and we just stood there like that for I don't know how long. That was a magic moment. We have been soul mates ever since she came in. This is a very special bird.

On a side note: I have had people who were sick come up to us when we are out, and Freedom has some kind of hold on them. I once had a guy who was terminal come up to us and I let him hold her. His knees just about buckled and he swore he could feel her power coarse through his body. I have so many stories like that. I never forget the honor I have of being so close to such a magnificent spirit as Freedoms. Jeff Guidry and Freedom are at Sarvey Wildlife Center

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How Birds Use Healing Clay In Nature

wild parrots eating clay Clay is renowned to have many uses in promoting health in plants, animals and humans. Bentonite, Pascalite, as well as other types of healing clays, have been used by indigenous cultures since before recorded history. Clay works on the entire organism. No part of the body is left untouched by its healing energies, he notes.

All these birds, once they landed in the nearby trees, descended to the ground and-to our astonishment-ate the bare dirt exposed by the landslide. This was evidently a prized location and a rare opportunity for the birds, as we could see them approaching from a distance of at least a mile away. Since most of New Guinea is covered with jungle, and herbs and fallen leaves blanket the ground, the rare landslide or cut riverbed affords birds their only exposure to large areas of soil.

 But why did the birds want to eat soil in the first place? What good does it do them? If it's somehow advantageous, why don't more species seek the same benefits? Of the 140 bird species that we recorded near our camp, we observed only eight eating soil, all of them plant eaters (consumers of fruit, seeds, and flowers). Why isn't soil also good for New Guinea's carnivores, or for the region's dozens of other species of plant-eating birds, such as berry peckers, flower peckers, and honey eaters?

Actually, eating soil is widespread among animals of many families on all continents. It's also widespread among people, especially traditional tribal societies.  The Macaw lick in which hundreds of brightly colored macaws and other parrots congregate to eat the clay which is essential to their digestion making it certainly one of the world's great wildlife spectacles and the worlds only known Tapir lick where in the comfort of mattresses and mosquito nets you may watch the largest of all South American Land Mammals visit a mineral lick. This is truly one of the world’s great wildlife spectacles as hundreds of Parrots and their larger relatives, the Macaws, congregate at this traditional locality to eat the mineral rich clay that is essential to their digestion. We'll use a floating blind to get close to the birds. The noise alone is incredible and the sight of these brightly colored birds at the lick is a sight not to be forgotten. As the lick slows down in midmorning we'll head for Cocha Blanco, an old ox-bow lake, in search of a family of Giant Otters that canoe around the lake on our floating looking for other wildlife.

Virtually all species of wild North American hoofed animals, such as bison and moose, visit licks, as do bears and some small animals, such as rabbits, squirrels, and woodchucks. Just as in New Guinea, North American licks also attract parrots and pigeons. Once these included the now-extinct Carolina parakeet, and today licks are frequented by the still-extant mourning dove and band-tailed pigeon. Animals have been visiting our licks for tens of thousands of years, as attested by bones of mammoths, mastodons, ground sloths, and other big extinct mammals. Wild animals on all other continents also engage in geophagy. Predominantly, the soil-eating species are herbivores: antelopes, apes, giraffes, and zebras in Africa; monkeys, peccaries, and tapir in South America; deer in Europe and Asia; parrots in South America; and butterflies in many places.

Licks are even more familiar to our domestic livestock. Ranchers find that feeding selected soils to cows, sheep, goats, and pigs results in improved health, weight gain, and food intake, plus enhanced food conversion into meat, by 20 percent or more. Montmorillonite/Bentonite clay is renowned for its natural antibiotic properties

Real salt is a vital nutrient for birds

Farmers place salt-blocks on their pasture so that their livestock and all other animals can lick the salt to their heart's content.

Birds need saltAn abundance of the ingredients in unrefined real salt are as synonymous with life today as they were a billion years ago before single cells appeared here. Lack of them is synonymous with birth defects, organ failure, decay, diseases, premature aging and death at a young age. Long before the earth knew pollutants of any kind, a huge, ancient sea covered what is now North America. Pure, natural salt was the main ingredient of this sea, and over millions of years, the water in the sea evaporated, leaving the salt in undisturbed deposits.

The best way to provide salt to your birds is to provide two separate bowls. One bowl with real-unrefined-unheated-natural-sea-salt and one bowl without salt, so that the animals can consume as much salt as they require. They will drink from the bowl that contains salted water, however once they have had enough salt, they will drink from the bowl that has plain water.

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From the Bee Hive for your Bird's Health

Bee pollen is often referred to as nature's most complete food. Human consumption of bee pollen is praised in the Bible, other religious books, and ancient Chinese and Egyptian texts. It has long been prescribed by traditional health practitioners-including the fathers of Western medicine Hippocrates, Pliny the Elder, and Pythagoras-for its healing properties. Bee pollen rejuvenates your body, stimulates organs and glands, enhances vitality, and brings about a longer life span. Bee pollen's ability to consistently and noticeably increase energy levels makes it a favorite substance among many world class athletes and those interested in sustaining and enhancing quality performance.

Note from Shirley: A friend had a sickly cockapoo. He was rapidly cured with the following which was added to his food:

  • A few drops of linseed oil
  • A little bee pollen
  • A pinch of pascalite and bentonite clay
  • A pinch of real salt (not table salt)
  • Wheatgrass
Wheatgrass for Birds

Companion birds use their beaks to squeeze the delicious, nutritious juice from each blade, then discard the indigestible part. Pet Grass may help distract birds that have a feather-picking problem. Be sure to remove the tag before placing Pet Grass in your bird's cage. They love to chew on the tag, and some will even chew on the container. You may want to remove the grass from the container if this is a problem, or clip a small amount of grass to the side of the cage. Pet Grass can also be chopped up and added to their food.

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Homeopathy for Psychological and Hormonal Disorders
by Christopher Day MA VetMB CertIAVH VetFFHom MRCVS

Birds are very prone to Psychological and Hormonal Disorders, there often being a combination of these factors present in disease.
For example:

  • Aconitum will prove invaluable in cases of panic or shock,
  • Ignatia could be used where a bird is excitable and suffering from lack of or loss of a mate or from being moved or separated,
  • Staphisagria can be given if the bird is morose and unable to cope with the conditions in which it is being kept and may start feather-pecking,
  • Glonoinium should be considered if the bird has been overheated or if its cage has been left in an exposed sunny position in a window for too long,
  • Sulphur is indicated where the bird may be suffering feather damage from general overheating in the room or aviary.

These few examples are but a guide to the usefulness and scope of veterinary homeopathy, in so many of the common and troublesome problems in birds. Homeopathy may also, interestingly, prove of immense value in flocks of chickens, turkeys, ducks or geese, which are intensively reared. However, this is a specialist subject, requiring help from an experienced veterinarian, and is not the main subject of this article.

Avian Health Problems and Their Natural Treatments
Gloria Dodd DVM
  • Homeopathics are primarily used in cases of psychological feather picking in the practice of Dr. Joel Murphy* of Clearwater, FL
  • Regurgitation and diarrhea can be due to pesticide and herbicide contamination of the seeds and greens used during growing. I'd assume probable pesticide poisoning and treat accordingly along with possible bacterial (Salmonella) infection, because I have seen this so frequently in birds.
  • Respiratory conditions and allergies are very common, and can be due to infections, parasites and stress. It takes a specially trained veterinarian in avian medicine to help. Relief can be afforded with some homeopathic remedies
  • Egg-Bound problems of female birds. Egg-bound (caged female, unsteady on perch, ruffled feathers, wagging or straining movements with tail, back and forth from nest, or standing on floor of cage, even resting on the tail with legs apart.) This condition can cause acute death due to compression of large blood vessels or intestinal and ureteral (tubes carrying urine from the kidneys) blockage. Inspection of the cloacal opening (common opening for the urine and feces) is evident.
  • Ecto-parasites (mites, etc.) can be controlled by good sanitation, cleaning feathers and other debris daily from the cage and replacing with fresh newspaper linings. A light dusting of the bird’s feathers with non-toxic diatomaceous earth weekly will kill what adult parasites are there as well as their immature forms without poisoning your pets with the more toxic commercial products
  • Wounds can be cleaned externally with warm soapy water, and then dressed with Calendula ointment on a Q- tip daily as needed.
  • Dangers of chemically polluted water. Other than trauma, almost 90 percent of the emergencies that befall birds are related to nutrition. Malnutrition, and contaminated, polluted feed and water with pesticides, and heavy metals.
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Parrots and Other Birds Die From...
  • Overheated non-stick cookware
  • Air fresheners (especially plug-ins)
  • Aerosol sprays (many types can kill a parrot including hairspray, paint, shoe dyes, water repellents, household cleaners, insect sprays[killers, repellents,flea spray, etc.])
  • Finger nail polish and remover

Carolyn Swicegood writes that it is a well-known fact that parrots are especially sensitive to environmental toxins. Chemicals that normally are only irritating to humans and other animals can be acutely toxic to parrots. The inhalation of carbon monoxide exhaust or fumes from overheated Teflon products, which would cause no apparent damage to humans or other animals, can be fatal to parrots. Their immune systems constantly are challenged by air pollution, exposure to heavy metals, water contamination and the adulteration of their foods by pesticides. A shocking four million tons of pesticides, numbering 20,000 different products, are fogged into the air in the United States each year! We must control additional exposure of our birds to these products by not using any fumigants in their presence. Similarly we must educate ourselves as to the level of contamination of the foods that they consume.

In the mid-1990s, American biologists used satellite tracking to follow Swainson’s hawks to their wintering grounds in Argentina, where thousands of them were found dead from monocrotophos poisoning. Migratory songbirds like bobolinks, barn swallows and Eastern kingbirds are suffering mysterious population declines, and pesticides may well be to blame. A single application of a highly toxic pesticide to a field can kill seven to 25 songbirds per acre. About half the birds that researchers capture after such spraying are found to suffer from severely depressed neurological function.

Migratory birds, modern-day canaries in the coal mine, reveal an environmental problem hidden to consumers. Testing by the United States Food and Drug Administration shows that fruits and vegetables imported from Latin America are three times as likely to violate Environmental Protection Agency standards for pesticide residues as the same foods grown in the United States. Some but not all pesticide residues can be removed by washing or peeling produce, but tests by the Centers for Disease Control show that most Americans carry traces of pesticides in their blood. American consumers can discourage this poisoning by avoiding foods that are bad for the environment, bad for farmers in Latin America and, in the worst cases, bad for their own families.

What should you put on your bird-friendly grocery list? Organic coffee, for one thing. Most mass-produced coffee is grown in open fields heavily treated with fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. In contrast, traditional small coffee farmers grow their beans under a canopy of tropical trees, which provide shade and essential nitrogen, and fertilize their soil naturally with leaf litter. Their organic, fair-trade coffee is now available in many coffee shops and supermarkets, and it is recommended by the Audubon Society, the American Bird Conservancy and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. Organic bananas should also be on your list. Bananas are typically grown with one of the highest pesticide loads of any tropical crop. Although bananas present little risk of pesticide ingestion to the consumer, the environment where they are grown is heavily contaminated.

What else Parrots Die From...

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Bird Lovers, you need to know about The Realities of Hen Hell

Many people are now aware of the deplorable conditions in which livestock are forced to live and die in our nation's factory farms. For example, chickens are forced to live in such crowded conditions that they must be de-beaked to prevent them from pecking each other to death. Now, another torture inflicted on farm animals is undergoing scrutiny. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), at any given time more than 6 million hens in the U.S. are being systematically starved in their cages. The motive, of course, is money.

Farmers starve hens in a practice called forced molting in order to increase egg production and raise profits. A 1997 survey of 15 major egg farms revealed that all routinely withheld or reduced their hens' feed from an average of seven to ten days. During the process the starving hens are so desperate for nutrition that they pluck and eat each other's feathers in a desperate attempt to quell their gnawing hunger. Up to 10% of birds die during forced molting.

Forced molting may have human health consequences. Prolonged food deprivation weakens the hens' immune systems, increasing the likelihood of salmonella infection. The pathogens may then be passed to humans eating contaminated eggs or meat.

England banned forced molting in 1987, but the practice continues in the U.S., supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Based on information in: The Animals' Agenda, Jul-Aug 1998.