The Hypothetical Mailbag

I don’t get letters, but I do get questions. SO many questions about parrots, birds, and all that goes with them. In the interest of maybe getting information to those who don’t know me and can’t ask me these questions, I will answer the imaginary letters that are pouring in.

Q. Dear Loco: Hi! Long time blog reader, first time letter writer. My question is, I have a female cockatoo that I thought was male since I got him. Or her. Anyway, I named him Charlie. Do I need to change that name now? Will the bird have an identity crisis?

Also, the way I found out Charlie isn’t a male is that he started laying eggs. I take the eggs away and he keeps laying more. I don’t want babies, so I have to take the eggs out. But I read that letting him continue to lay eggs is bad. What do I do?

Signed, Scarlet in Atlanta, GA

A. Dear Scarlet, I am so glad you asked these questions. No, Charlie has no idea that her name is for a boy, not a girl. She will be fine. As for the egg laying, no, unless there is a real male cockatoo with her, you don’t have to worry about babies, you may leave the eggs with her. Usually she will realize that they won’t hatch after a month or so, and abandon the nest.

I assume you gave her a nest box so she would have somewhere to sleep. This is not needed. Her wild ancestors slept in trees on branches, and only find cavities in those trees for nesting during the breeding season. Giving her a box only encourages her to lay the eggs. Once you remove the box, if she still lays eggs, there are a few things you can do to discourage this. First of all, make sure she gets only 8 hours of light per day. I normally discourage covering bird cages, but in this case, it may be life saving. At the same time, limit her food to the amount she will eat in one day. Nothing extra. And no baths or showers.

Why, you ask? Well, breeding season occurs in the spring in either hemisphere. Spring means longer days, abundant food, and rains that leave puddles or swell the streams and lakes. Another way to discourage egg laying is to remove the security of the cage location and the cage itself. Move toys around, put food and water on another level, put the cage in another room. Good luck with Charlie!

Q. Dear Loco: How the heck do you stand all that noise? Don’t your neighbors complain?

Ed in NYC

A. If only I had a dollar for every time someone asks me that. The fact is, when someone new comes into the house, the birds set up an alarm call. That’s why we keep a glass of ear plugs by the front door. During the majority of the day, the birds call to each other in chirps, some sing, some talk, but it’s not that much noise. I can sleep in the living room where we have a dozen cockatiels and 5 conures of various types. I often bring my Amazon to sit on my chair while I doze, but that doesn’t always work. He thinks I am there to entertain him. Right now I can hear the doves outside cooing, the cockatiels inside and out whistling, the canaries chirping, and the Amazon muttering to himself. Oh, there went a budgie squabble. At night, when the lights go out, except for the night lights we leave on, there is silence. Inside and out. The lights go off about 10:00 pm, and after a final call all around, the birds close their eyes and sleep.

Why night lights? Cockatiels are fascinating little parrots. They dream. And they sometimes have nightmares or night frights. A night light will often help the scared bird realize it is safe and the dream has gone away. Whenever we take in new birds, we expect a night or two of such scares. Then it passes.

As to the neighbors, well, they almost all have yappy little dogs or big barking dogs. They leave these poor creatures outside at night, in all weather. It’s not bad in winter when our windows are closed, but in the summer it can be annoying. But I don’t call animal control to report barking dogs, and they don’t call animal control to report noisy birds. We haven’t reached this agreement in face to face discussion, but it stands just the same. And not to sound like I am profiling a community, I hope, but our neighbors are maybe 85% Latino. Their culture has a deep and abiding love for birds. Some of our neighbors keep birds of their own. There used to be a flock of pigeons a block over that would fly overhead. One or two of the pretty things would land and look our birds over. But they could not be tempted to join us when their own flock and nests were nearby.

I hope you may have learned something in this Let’s Pretend post! Have a great New Year!

Twelve Days of Holiday Gifts for Parrots

1. Chew Toys – Parrots don’t brush their beaks after eating, but you may see them rubbing against a perch occasionally. This helps sharpen the ever-growing beak and keep it in good shape for the serious business of nut and seed cracking. Chewing on things also helps keep the beak from over-growing. Wood is usually the first choice, and if no toys are present, the parrot will look at furniture and walls, anything he or she can get that beak around or in to. This site ( has some pretty awesome toys, all rated for safety. And the key to that is to pick the right parrot at the top so you can see the size of the toys you need to look at. What may harm an African grey by catching his beak in a link would be no issue to a budgie. Additonally, this site ( will give you lists of items that can be used to create your own bird toys. Some of the items are thrown away in most homes, so be creative but think safety first.
2. Foot toys – Parrots like to play. I know a lorikeet who likes to hold a toy in one foot and hop around the bottom of her cage on her free foot. She’s adorable and a very happy parrot. I give bottle caps from 20 oz. drink bottles to my cockatiels. They like to carry them around, put them in the food dishes, and then forget about them. But at least for a while, they are entertained. This site has many toys and pays particular attention to which toy is safe for the type of parrot you have. (
3. Bells – I know we covered this in the safety tips post, but repetition is often useful. So, be sure to get a bell that is size appropriate to your bird, has a clapper that can withstand extra attention, and a safe way to attach it to the case. NO JINGLE BELLS! Sorry, the Grinch wins this one. These bells are ideal: (
4. Chains – I used plastic chains to make a bridge from a love bird cage to a playtop on another cage. The lovies soon learned to use it, and even after their wing feathers molted and grew in again, they liked to climb on it and chew the links. This site ( has a short chain with links of different shapes that may appeal to your bird, and offers it in appropriate sizes for various species. And if you scroll down that page, you will find lots of plastic chain and accessories for making and hanging your creations.
5. Foraging Toys – Are you aware that the majority of the day for a parrot in the wild is spent in finding, eating, and gathering food? Our sociable birds get bored when their food is presented in a bowl. This is why toys play such a huge part in their mental well-being. And that’s where foraging toys come in to play. I have found it’s best to make your own foraging items. Throw a few raw almonds and broccoli spears into a brown lunch bag, tie the top of the bag with a safe rope or twine, and either hang it somewhere or lay it in the bottom of the cage. The problem often encountered is that the bird at first has no idea what the bag is, and they open it so that the contents scatter through the grate at the bottom of the cage, and are lost. But that hopefully is a learing experience, and the next time the bird will be more careful. Just don’t give up. Or hang it over a food dish. And here are some good ideas for putting together foraging opportunites. (
6. Ropes – Give a parrot enough rope and he very likely will hang himself. I’ve seen it in smaller birds more often, but it’s easy to imagine a larger bird doing the same thing. So the rule with rope is to make it short, and to use a safe type. This site ( not only sells super safe Paulie Rope in pretty colors, there are many foraging toys and toy parts available.
7. Another Parrot! – Well, this comes with a cautionary truism. Birds are mostly flock creatures, and that sociability makes them good choices as pets. However, if you have one bird by his or her self, you must be that bird’s flock. Lots of contact, lots of snuggle time, and so on, are important. However, if you have a parrot for whatever reason that is not a good pet, such as my half-moon conure Beeby, then another parrot is esential. We were lucky to receive a sweet green cheek conure, Esme, and paired her up with Beeby. She keeps him in line, will put herself between him and anyone who comes too close to the cage, and snuggles and preens him regularly. He is sweet to her in return. We were not so lucky with our Congo African Greys. As you may know, Io is blind, and Bobo has no toes on her feet. I imagined the two of them living happily together, Io not being so terrified and alone, and Bobo having someone to groom her where she can’t reach with her beak. Unfortunately Bobo is a bad roommate. She followed Io around pulling his tail feathers. That freaked him out seriously, and he spent the whole hour of the experiment crying piteously. So be very sure you are prepared to have two birds in separate cages. Here’s great information of the subject: (
8. A Bigger Cage – Yes, if you have room. And maybe a second cage. Many companion birds have one cage just to sleep in, and a second cage or play stand where they spend most of their days. This encourages the parrot to associate the one cage with being quiet and sleeping. Parrots need 12 or more hours of sleep, and chances are they don’t get that in their human companion’s home. But if there is a sleep cage in a quiet room where they can be undisturbed, you have the makings of a happier parrot. Also think about an outside cage. Parrots use sunlight to create Vitamin D and to sanitize their feathers. If the sunlight is filtered through glass window panes or screens, not enough of the useful part of the light will get through. An outside cage, even if you don’t let the bird stay there all the time, will help improve the health of your bird. More great information on cage sizes and issues: ( And great information on separate cages for sleep and why: ( Finally, a wonderful place to buy aviaries or aviary building parts: (
9. A Trip to The Park/Beach/Lake – Think of spending your whole day in one place. Now think of spending every day of your life in that one place. Scary, huh? Your parrot has more intelligence than we usually give him or her credit for. There are lots of safe ways to take the bird along. First of all, unless you have completed training and know your bird will always return to you on command, clip the wings before attempting this. Remember if you haven’t taken the bird out and about very often, there will be lots of new, scary things out there. Cars, cats, dogs, airplanes, other people, birds of prey! Taking trips with your companion won’t happen overnight if you have been keeping him or her locked inside most of the time. You have two choices in how to safely take your bird outside. One is a harness: ( and the other is a carrier. Some carriers are made specifically for outings, keeping the comfort of both bird and human in mind: ( This article also suggests ways to make your own stroller, very helpful. But if you don’t have the time or resources to make that item, you can buy the wheels and the Pak O’ Bird separately: (
10. Clicker Training – Remember, parrots are at least as smart, maybe smarter, than your dog. Learning to do tricks is fun for them, and creating an excellent communication system makes it happen quickly. This interview with an avian veterinarian explains why it can be important to the health of your bird: (
11. A Shoulder Cape – Like clicker training, this is a gift for both you and your companion bird. It’s a pretty simple idea, a circle of cloth with a front opening and a neck hole. Toys are attached by various means near where the shoulders will be. The bird sits on your shoulder, plays with the toys, and poops on something besides your clothing. Win-win! Here’s what it looks like: (
12. Quality People Time – When you brought your hand-fed baby bird home, you spent hours, probably, interacting, learning foods that were acceptable, giving scritches, and being totally in thrall of this sweet creature. As Baby grew up, for whatever reason, you may have gotten out of the habit of spending regular time with your parrot. If the bird changed into a hormonal teenager with needs far out of your ability to provide, you possibly don’t know what to do now. Another scenario is that you adopted a bird from a pet store or an ad on Craigslist, and brought home the bird only to discover that the bird was only comfortable with the person who handfed him or her. Being properly socialized for baby birds should include being handled and cared for by more than one person. My beautiful Indian ringneck, Wraith, acted sweet and docile the first night I took him home. By the next morning, he had decided to be scared of everything and everyone. Luckily my husband has worked with him and established something of a relationship now. Since I hope to breed Wraith this coming summer, I am not overly concerned with taming him. But if I were, there are ways to make that parrot a sweetheart. This site gives a very clear, detailed instructions on how to do this. Warning, it’s not going to happen over night. Time and patience are required. If you do have a sweet baby bird, try to stay in the habit of spending quality time with your parrot. Then you won’t need these instructions: (

This site does a great job of summing up the information detailed above: ( Have a great Holiday, and stay safe!

The Twelve Days of Holiday Treats for Parrots (and Other Birds)

1. Nuts – Most nuts are high in fats, and should not be a steady diet for any bird. However, the bigger the beak, the more likely the bird can handle big nuts like walnuts and Brazil nuts. My Amazon loves almonds, the African greys love peanuts, and all of the hook bills like sunflower seeds. Look for unsalted, raw when possible. Nut butters also can be a fun food, a little in a toy, just like for dogs, will keep a hook bill busy for hours. There is good nutrition in nuts, but they should never be more than an occasional treat.
2. Breads – I have yet to meet a parrot or finch who didn’t love bread. One of my tricks when raising finches, to be sure the parents had enough food for the chicks, was to put a slice of whole wheat bread in the cage. But people bread is not the best for parrots. There are a ton of recipes out on the web for various bird breads, using corn meal and lots of other good things. If your parrot doesn’t particularly care for veggies, breads are a great way to get a few into his or her diet. Oh, and the recipe may call for eggs, shells and all. The calcium in egg shells is very good for parrots. You can microwave the empty shells for a half minute or so to sterilize them, and to make them easier to crunch up in the mix. (
3. Millet – For my small birds and small hook bills, millet makes a great holiday treat. A little festive ribbon that can double as a toy adds a nice touch, but be sure the length of the ribbon is about an inch or so. You can purchase millet in just about any pet store that carries supplies for birds, but be sure to look it over a bit. You want large clusters on the sprays. Foraging for millet off the sprays is an important part of the treat, so don’t get millet by the bag, get it on the stalk. This link will give you good information on the nutritional value of millet. (
4. Honey Sticks – Sure, you might find these pre-made at the same pet stores where you can buy millet and nuts, but wouldn’t you love to make something instead? Making the treats is way cheaper, and you can add all the love you want. This page is a forum for budgie people, but the recipes are awesome. ( And this site has a wide variety, not just honey sticks. (
5. Apples and Oranges and Pears, oh my! – Some birds eat more fruit in the wild than others. Research your bird to make sure you can feed him or her some of the fruit readily available where you live. Fruit is high in sugar, so be stingy with it in most cases. My bigger birds get a quarter of an apple about every two weeks, with more veggies and greens in between. They would regard grapes, oranges, and pears as true treats on special days. This site talks about the danger in letting your parrot eat the pits or seeds of some fruit. If it isn’t an issue for you to take out the pits, then be on the safe side. However with apples, it’s not a big deal. I stopped coring the apples that I give to the parrots, and have had no ill effects. (
6. Cookies – People cookies are way too high in fats and sugar, so cross that right off your list. However, I found a site with a recipe for a breakfast cookie for people and birds that has me salivating. ( I especially love that the cookies are made in two different sizes, and there’s a photo of the blogger’s pionus eating one. This site has pre-made cookies for sale, but it bothers me that they have to state not for human consumption. If it only indicates they haven’t had their facility rated for health standards so that the items can be eaten by people, I still have to question the quality of the item. (
7. Chips – Right, not people chips, in spite of the fact Mike has been trying to win Maynard over by giving him a tortilla chip now and then. A baked chip that is also low fat and unsalted or very low salt would be acceptable. That’s going to be a challenge, because this site shows Lay’s Baked Potato Chips as being 80% carbs and pretty darn salty. ( But while not a real food treat, yucca chips are very cool for a parrot to chew on, and not very expensive. Again, found in most pet stores that carry bird supplies. Or you can buy them online (
8. Crackers – Stop me if you’ve heard this one. When our crazy half moon conure arrived at our house, the woman who was rehoming him said he loved goldfish. Mike and I exchanged looks. I didn’t know of any parrots who were normally fish eaters. We pieced together from what else she told us that she meant the Goldfish crackers! Now and then, we do give Goldfish to the parrots, and they aren’t that bad for them ( but a better choice we just discovered is the Wasa brand crackers. ( These can be part of the daily diet of your birds, they are that good.
9. Eggnog – Really? Well, no alcohol, and drop the sugar and salt. And maybe make it more like scrambled eggs. But you can call it eggnog and the parrots probably won’t know the difference. Here’s a basic eggnog recipe followed by lots of ways to make it good for people, for certain values of good. ( Scrambled eggs are a great treat now and then for parrots and finches, especially any breeding birds. The nutrients in the eggs are exactly what they are manufacturing for the eggs. And if you are feeding this just to the birds, you can add in the egg shells, see above for microwaving the shells. I would add some veggies to the eggs, and also set a timer for the eggs in the food dishes. Eggs go bad quickly no matter what the weather. After two hours, pull all the uneaten egg, clean the dishes thoroughly, and clean the cage of any bits where the bird might get to them. (
10. Cheerios ® – Low sugar, whole grains, the only cereal I let my kids eat, pretty much, and the only cereal I would give to my birds. The fun thing about Cheerios is the ring shape. With a safe rope or twine, thread as many on as you wish, tie it in a loop, and hang it in the cage. Good treat and foraging fun as well. (
11. Soak and cook – Soaked seeds and soak and cook are two different things. Soaked seeds are usually a step in sprouted seeds. Sprouts should not be a treat, sprouts should be given regularly. ( Soak and cook, however, is a yummy mix of beans and legumes and sometimes Bulgar wheat, that you soak over night, drain and rinse in a colander, put in a pot and cover with water about an inch over the beans. Once the water boils, reduce heat to a simmer and set a timer for an hour or whatever it says on the package. This treat is a simple one to throw together if you shop at health-type stores where you can get the stuff in bulk, or you can order it online or get it at the pet stores. (
12. Pasta – Whole wheat pasta, spinach pasta, tomato pasta, there are some great choices in the regular markets today. Cook it up with no oil or salt, drain and cool, and add fresh veggies and maybe some sesame seeds or hemp seeds. Even chia seeds would be tasty. And you can share this treat with your bird!

Have fun shopping and cooking. Next week we’ll have Twelve Days of Toys for Parrots!

The Twelve Days of Holiday Safety for Parrots

Winter comes with its own set of hazards for our feathered companions, and especially for hook bills, there are dangers needlessly brought about by our lack of forethought. Here are a few guidelines to help you keep your family safe.

1. Poinsettias – Information is conflicting on this plant and its ability to poison anyone. A lot depends on your sensitivity to latex and that would go for your parrot as well. But why have something in the house that might make you or your companion animals sick? I’d give it a miss myself. Here is some good information on the plant and its origins:
2. Electric Decorations – Parrots must chew. Electric cords are squishy and fun to chew upon. And extremely dangerous for the bird who is allowed access to the cords. At the holidays, many more cords are available around the house to entertain the birds. But with a little planning,you can ensure that your parrot has a happy holiday season. According to PetEducation at Drs. Foster and Smith, you can get a spiral wrap to go around the cord, use a cord concealer, or run the cord through PVC pipe or heavy polyethylene tubing to protect it.
3. Visitors – Make sure anyone coming to your house for any reason knows you have a bird or birds. If they are allergic, you won’t be having a good time. Likewise, make sure they know not to let parrots out of cages without your permission, and if your birds have the run of the house, then make sure doors are opened and closed with as much haste as possible. Whenever possible, keep two doors between the bird and the outside world. Strange people in his or her territory can cause stress and poor behavior in a parrot, so you must harden your heart and ignore the bird, and keep your guests away from your parrots until the arrival period is over and things calm down. Once people are seated somewhere, talking and relaxing, then you might be able to bring out your well-socialized birds. Here are two excellent articles on the subject: Another thing to be aware of is your bathrooms. Normally when we have birds out, we keep the lids down on the toilets. Your visitors may not know this or remember to do this. So take a quick look now and again.
4. Pine vs. Rosemary – Pine tree needles are poisonous to birds. Rosemary is not. Therefore if you have a choice between the traditional pine and the rosemary bush trimed to look like a pine tree, you should play it safe. I hope you know better than to use mistletoe or holly around your birds! Here are two good sites for information on safe and hazardous plants.
5. Tinsel and Bells – Tinsel is often used in backyards to keep wild birds away from fruit trees. And these birds have been observed eating the tinsel. That alone would prevent me from using it, and I definitely won’t use it in my home where my parrots might do the same thing. Lots of birds chew on fabric, mats, strings, and bad things happen when those fibers are ingested. So the evidence is clear, tinsel is out. Bells, on the other hand, are a staple bird toy. But! Check them very carefully, and do not use jingle bells ever! Bird beaks and toes can become stuck in those, or cut. Check that the bell is made out of good and safe material, not base metals. Stainless steel is preferred. The clapper can be the most dangerous part of the bell. Make sure it is attached firmly, and won’t make the bell just a bit of metal after a few hours of play. The bigger your parrot, the more strength needed to withstand the bird. And the means to attach the bell at the top needs to be of the right size so that toes and beaks don’t get caught, and again, strong enough so the bell can continue to delight your parrot. Here is an excellent site for more information:
6. Red Things – Years ago, when I only had cockatiels, I read somewhere that cockatiels were frightened by anything that was the color red. So don’t put Christmas decorations of that color around your bird’s cage. I don’t think Palafox cared much for the little red and white Christmas stocking I hung on his cage, but I don’t think he was actually scared of it. And on Christmas morning when it had millet in it, he really didn’t mind the red at all. As far as what I can find on the internet to support to debunk this theory, it appears to vary greatly bird by bird. So watch the reactions from your own pets, and take that in to account.
7. Glass Decorations – You would think parrots would be smart enough not to eat or swallow broken glass. No. In fact, they may be the cause of the glass item breaking. So keep your parrots away from your heirloom glass decorations, and if any break, clean up all the pieces as quickly as you can.
8. Illnesses – There are, thankfully, very few diseases your bird can catch from you. You can bring the count down to zero if you always – ALWAYS – wash your hands before and after handling your birds, their food, their toys, dishes, water, cage, and so on. Keep aforementioned toys and so on clean to help prevent diseases. And when you have people in and out of your home, insist they too wash their hands, and no kisses on the birds. Our saliva has killer bacteria for birds, really bad stuff, so be advised that your birds are in more danger of illness from you than you are from them.
9. Chocolate – I love it, you probably love it, but we are hopefully smart enough to stop at a small sample. We know chocolate has a high fat content, usually, but it does create a nice feeling of elevated moods, like falling in love. For parrots, it’s like poison. Chocolate brings on vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and death. Do not leave it anywhere in the home where the birds might get into it. Some birds like the smell and the taste. It’s up to us to keep them alive and safe.
10. Alcohol – Called out on the same page as above, you will read that alcohol is another poison for birds. Yes, it’s a poison for people as well. But we are the thinkers with the large brains. Purposely poisoning ourselves is one thing. Allowing our birds to accidentally poison themselves is another.
11. Kitchen Hazards – Years ago, I would host breakfast for my family every Christmas, and make my specialty, aebleskivers. These are ball-shaped Swedish pancakes that I learned to make in Solvang at a restaurant where I worked. I used a cast iron pan heated on the stove and filled with oil. I still have the pan, although I don’t make the aebleskivers any longer. Imagine if your curious Amazon or cockatiel came to see what you were doing and landed on the hot iron coated in oil. Disaster! We have a strict rule that no birds are allowed out when we are boiling water for pasta, frying eggs or meat, anything on the stove other than the tea kettle. Thank goodness the only time a bird landed in something in the kitchen, it was a bowl of tuna salad. We had already served out the sandwiches, so very little was tossed. The look on the bird’s face was comical. He did not expect to be standing in cold, gooey stuff. Remember also that non-stick pans, ovens, aerosol sprays, and some foods can be hazards for your birds in different ways.
12. Heaters – The weather outside is cool in the northern hemisphere right now, so we run our heater at night and bundle up during the day. I have a couple of heat rocks such as those used for reptiles in cages with my elderly birds or any showing signs of illness. We do need to install a carbon monoxide alarm, but our hot water heater is in the garage, and the furnace does draw properly, and we clean our vents regularly. We do not use space heaters, or kerosene heaters, and we don’t have a fireplace. The house is anything but air tight. Besides the toxic fumes issue, heaters can cause dry skin in everyone in the home. I used to have a fish tank to provide extra humidity for my breeding birds. And then I tried a table-top fountain, but seeds kept sprouting in it. The tanks became too much work, and now I try to provide bathing water for the majority of the birds. It’s also fun to give love birds palm leaves that are wet. Budgies, too, like to roll around in wet leaves. All my cockatiels like a misting with water bottles, but only when the day is going to be fairly warm and they will be dry by nightfall.

To sum it all up, here’s great page that covers much of what I wanted to say:

I certainly hope this brought you some news you can use, and that you will come back next Sunday for the Twelve Days of Holiday Treats for Birds. From my flock to yours, Happy Holidays!

First Aid And Why

More than any other birds kept as pets, Parrots are wild animals. In their rapidly vanishing wild habitat, showing signs of illness or weakness singles the bird out for predators. If you have to chase your meals, you’ll try to find a slow one.

This instinct has not gone away in parrots, and it is up to those of us who care for them to be vigilant and watch for signs. And if you see signs, get help immediately. Because the bird has hidden these signs for as long as possible, and you may only have a few hours in which to help your pet.

The very first thing you need to have in your first aid kit is the name and phone number of a good avian vet. Ask your friends who have birds, look on Yelp for customer reviews, join a bird club and ask the members. Take your bird in for a well bird check-up every year so you both learn the routine and the bird isn’t traumatized further when an emergency arises. Likewise, as parrots might not get sick during the vet’s office hours, have the name and phone number of an animal hospital with 24 hour care and an avian vet on staff. Ask your primary vet to recommend one.

I have to admit that I am giving you the situation as it should be. Personally, with 70 odd birds, we don’t take them in for yearly well bird check-ups. Money being tight, and the horizon being far off, we get by with luck and lots of prayers. When we are better off, I will take at least the larger birds in for annual check-ups.

For the rest of the flock. I am vigilant. Aviculturists talk about Poopology, and it is an important thing to know. When a bird is healthy, the liquid and solid waste will testify to that condition. This web site ( has valuable information on what you should see, and what is probably meant by anything else. But all birds are different. Learn to recognize your bird’s healthy poop, and check it no less than weekly.

Another early sign of illness is if your bird stops eating. Again, if you keep your cages clean, and feed only enough seed for a day at a time, this should be obvious. I’m not going to get into talking about how much each bird needs or seed versus pellets, but I will say that most parrots eat about 15 to 20% of their body weight every day. If you want to look into the whole diet controversy, this web site is a good start:

Watch how your parrot breathes. Normally you should not be aware of the lungs and air sacs expanding and contracting. Birds do not have diaphragm, so things work differently than in mammals. So if you see your bird’s tail bobbing with each breath, and especially if you hear your bird breathing, you have a sick bird. Check the nares (nostrils at the top of the beak) for a discharge, and the vent for sticky poop or loose poop stuck to the feathers.

Sick birds have a hard time keeping themselves warm. Make sure you have a small cage, just big enough for the patient, and a heat lamp. Heating pads or heat rocks such as reptiles use are acceptable, but a heat lamp is easier to set up outside the cage so the parrot doesn’t chew on anything. Also if you use the red bulbs, the bird will sleep better. Make sure fresh water and food are available, and possibly administer a broad spectrum antibiotic. But call the vet and get the bird seen as soon as possible.

About hearing your bird breath, finches and canaries commonly get air sac mites. If you gently grasp the bird and hold it close to your ear, mites will cause the breathing of the bird to click or whistle. A bad infestation can be fatal. When I first notice signs of mites, I like to spray the birds with Avian Insect Liquidator. We buy it in the concentrated form and spray for ants, mites, and most pests in the bird room and aviary. I love this stuff. Just keep it out of food and water, and it can be used pretty freely. Another good product is Ivermectin, and the best way to administer it is by putting a thin bead of it along the perches. The birds will get it on their feet, and clean it off. Easy and safe. There is also a product called Scatt which will do the same job.

Blood feathers are an issue if the feather doesn’t come out. Have needle-nose pliers handy to pull it gently from the bird’s skin. Cuts and bleeding elsewhere will require a compression if the bird is tame, styptic, and Neosporin crème. Do not use the ointment form, because the greasy stuff gets on the bird’s wings and causes more problems.

These are the basics, and I hope you may have learned something here. Our birds are family, and we take care of them the same way we take care of the rest of the kids. This web site will give you more detailed information and some good things to add to your first aid kit that I didn’t think of.

As we roll into the Winter holidays, I’ll be looking at safe ways to decorate and gifts for your birds. Have fun!