Eclectus Discuss Eclectus parrot in the Specific Bird Chatter forums; So you want to share your home and your heart with an Eclectus parrot and you have located a few ...
So you want to share your home and your heart with an Eclectus parrot and you have located a few breeders -- NOW what? How do you determine which breeder is best for you? Before you call or visit, be prepared to ask the right questions to get the information that you need. If you can find a good local breeder, that's a plus because you will have good access to support after the purchase. Good breeders will welcome your questions and they will also have questions for you to assure that their Eclectus baby goes to a good home. Here are some suggested questions for your interview of breeders.
* How long have you kept companion birds and how many years have you bred Eclectus parrots?
Experience is a plus in many ways but new or small-scale breeders generally have the advantage of more time to socialize their birds, so there are advantages to both large and small breeding aviaries.
* How many different parrot species do you breed? How many subspecies of Eclectus do you breed?
If a breeder specializes in the parrot species or subspecies that you prefer, your choice of babies probably will be greater. If a breeder has a huge breeding facility, they are likely to be very busy so ask if they hire outside help or enlist family members to help socialize their babies.
* Do you ever sell unweaned babies?
A good breeder should reply to this important question with a definite "no". There is no excuse for selling unweaned babies and those breeders who sell unweaned babies do not do so with the best interest of their birds in mind. An unweaned baby is not a bargain for the buyer because an inexperienced handfeeder can easily cause lifelong health and behavioral problems. Inexperienced handfeeders mistakenly cause problems of crop burn, aspirated food, bacterial infections, and weaning trauma. Eclectus chicks also tend to have problems adjusting to a change of handfeeders.
* Do you maintain a closed aviary? If not, do you broker babies?
The safest aviary is the closed aviary where new birds are never brought in. Brokering is the practice of buying fertile eggs or babies from other breeders and raising them to sell, which creates a serious disease risk. A breeder who brokers eggs and babies without disclosing this fact to the buyer allows the buyer to "assume" that the baby was hatched by the breeder, leaving the buyer unaware of the possible effect of conditions at the other aviary, including a possible disease risk.
* Are your chicks routinely incubator hatched?
Ideally, a baby would spend the first days, and preferably weeks, in the nest with the hen, not only for feeding on demand and imprinting on its species, but to receive natural avian digestive flora from the hen. It is not necessary to isolate babies from other birds in order to promote pet quality. Eclectus bond and re-bond throughout their lives. They are naturally gregarious and socially oriented animals.
* If parent hatched, how long do your babies stay with the parent birds before being taken from the nest for handfeeding?
Chicks that never see their parents or spend time with other birds sometimes have problems as adults with breeding and getting along with other birds. If you plan for your parrot to breed when it matures, look for a baby that has spent at least two or three weeks with the parents and clutch mates.
* Do you routinely give your Eclectus breeding pairs a break from breeding or do they produce year round?
Breeding pairs should not be used as year-round "egg machines". Breeders who incubate all eggs and never allow their breeding pairs to raise their babies so that they produce nest after nest of eggs can cause serious problems for the hens. Breeding pairs should be forced to rest from breeding for a few months at least once a year unless they voluntarily take breaks from breeding.
* Can you provide photos of the parent birds and/or information about their subspecies and background (wild caught or domestic raised).
Many owners of closed aviaries do not allow anyone to enter their flights and nurseries in order to prevent disease exposure of their birds and to prevent nervous pairs from abandoning or destroying their eggs and/or chicks. The breeder should be able to provide photos of their pairs and babies. It is important for the breeder to be knowledgeable about Eclectus subspecies characteristics to assure that the babies are a pure subspecies. The buyer also needs to be knowledgeable about the differences between the various subspecies.
* Are the parent birds fed a varied diet that includes fresh foods daily?
Birds maintained on a substandard diet sometimes produce unhealthy chicks. Be sure that the parent birds are not maintained on an all-seed diet (which is nutritionally incomplete.).
* What method of handfeeding do you use?
Most good breeders place formula in the beak of a young chick with a syringe or spoon. This allows the baby to enjoy the taste and texture of food and it ensures that the breeder spends scheduled time with the baby several times a day. In most cases, this is the main time that babies get attention from the breeder. Gentle handling, soft speech and loving care is important to the chick's emotional development.
* Do you routinely gavage feed babies?
Gavage feeding is the practice of inserting a steel feeding needle or flexible tube into the baby's crop to pump the food in all at once. This feeding method is justified when used to save the life of a sick baby that refuses to eat, but the only reason for a breeder to routinely gavage feed all their babies all the time is to save the breeder time and trouble feeding and cleaning the baby. This deprives the baby of learning to eat at the time that it is programmed to learn. The baby also is deprived of the interaction with the caregiver that normal feeding requires. There are many reasons to avoid the purchase of a gavage fed parrot. Babies that are not allowed to taste food do not learn to enjoy eating so it can prolong weaning time for months. In addition, gavage fed babies are likely to be less interested in food, less willing to try new foods, and more likely to have poor appetites compared to babies that are not gavage fed. Baby parrots ideally start eating solid foods at the same age that they would in the wild, and this does not happen with gavage fed birds.
* How much time do you actually spend with your babies daily? How do you interact with them?
If a breeder states that they don't "spoil" their babies by giving them too much attention, ask specifically how much individual attention the baby is given daily. Just as human children need to be touched, nurtured and have their cries for help answered, baby birds can only learn to trust and feel secure when they are shown love and their calls for help are answered. Baby parrots that are "warehoused" and rarely cuddled, do not learn to enjoy being handled and do not love and trust people.
* Are your babies raised in isolation or with clutch mates or other babies of similar age?
Babies appear to be more content and comfortable when they can cuddle up to a clutch mate for warmth and companionship. Isolation is unnatural for birds because they are social creatures. Isolation does not make them better pet quality.
* Do you "discipline" your babies?
There is no excuse for punishing baby birds. They should be raised with love and handled gently. If a breeder punishes babies by squirting them in the face with water, isolating them in the dark, or other harsh treatment, the babies are not likely to ever learn to trust humans. Rewarding acceptable behaviors and ignoring undesirable behaviors is the best training method for training birds of any age. There is no excuse for punishing baby birds.
* At what age do your babies wean?
A good breeder will not be able to tell you the exact age of weaning, although s/he may be able to give you a general idea. Keep in mind that weaning age may vary between individuals and between subspecies. Smaller subspecies may wean earlier than larger subspecies. All healthy babies should be allowed to wean on their own schedule. Force weaning may cause problems with feeding and insecurity that the new owner and baby might never overcome. Prolonged handfeeding of Eclectus babies to the age of seven or eight months is also a problem. There is a window of opportunity for natural weaning and if the breeder misses it, which is likely when gavage feeding, there are likely to be problems. Eclectus chicks wean naturally between the ages of three and five months and if the breeder does not wean them onto a variety of healthful foods at this time, the birds can be finicky eaters for life.
* What foods do you offer your weaning babies?
Good breeders offer a smorgasbord of fresh vegetables, fruits, protein foods, whole grain breads and pastas, nuts, seeds, and other dry foods. Some breeders teach their babies to eat pellets, even if they do not feed pellets. Their introduction when the babies are willing to try new foods is useful in case a future owner feeds them.
* How do you socialize your babies and teach them to enjoy toys?
If the breeder does not know that babies need socializing, you will have a lot of catching up to do after you get the baby. The unsocialized baby is not likely to be as friendly, confident and outgoing as babies whose initial caregiver spent time teaching them to play, "step up", and maneuver toys and exercise items like Boings, swings and ropes. Good breeders provide a variety of toys and other objects to stimulate the baby's natural curiosity about its environment and to develop coordination and manual dexterity.
* Are your birds encouraged to become good flyers before their wings are clipped, and what wing clip do you use?
All young birds should be allowed to master flying skills before being clipped, which should be done gradually. This not only promotes muscular development but gives them confidence as well and teaches them to make safe turns and landings. By clipping one or two feathers on each wing and then allowing the baby to fly for a day or two before clipping one or two more feathers on each wing until the desired clip is attained is the least traumatic way of clipping a baby's wings. You might request this clip if your chosen breeder does not use it.
* Are you available to your clients after the sale for long term follow-up help? Do you encourage your clients to contact you if the baby has a problem adjusting to its new home?
It is important for the buyer to feel free to ask for help after the sale and they should be given ample contact information for the breeder. A good breeder insists on staying in touch with the new owner of their babies to help with their adjustment to the new home and family. The best Eclectus breeders volunteer their advice and support for as long as the buyer needs help.
* Do you provide references from people who have bought babies from you in the past year?
If the breeder provides references, be sure to check them out. Of course the breeder will refer you to their most satisfied clients, but you can learn a lot from them if you ask the right questions. One good question is, "If you could have changed one thing about your transaction with this breeder, what would that be?" Another good question is, "What is the one question that you wish you had asked the breeder?" The answers to these questions might provide you with useful information that you can discreetly follow up with the breeder. Finally, be sure to ask all the references whether or not the breeder is available for follow-up help after the sale.
* Do you provide a written health guarantee with ample time for the buyer to get a vet check to determine that the bird is healthy?
The buyer should have at least three days to have the bird checked by their own vet. The contract should detail the buyer's recourse in the event that the bird is ill. Will the breeder refund, replace, pay for treatment or other? Who pays for vet care in the event of a pre-existing illness? Who pays shipping if the bird was misrepresented according to the terms of the sales contract and the buyer wishes to return it to the seller?
* Do you have your babies microchipped, banded, or do you leave the issue of identification up to the buyer's discretion?
Microchips are safer than leg bands which can entrap a foot or leg and cause permanent injuries or worse. If your breeder uses leg bands, ask for a baby that has not yet been banded and have it microchipped at the appropriate age.
* Do you have your babies tested for Psittacine Beak & Feather Disease before the sale?
This is not routinely done, especially if the breeder prefers not to take the baby to a clinic where sick birds might be present. The buyer can have this test done at the first health check if there is concern about the disease by the buyer or the vet. The sales contract should cover the issue of pre-existing disease.
* Do you have your babies vaccinated against Polyoma?
The buyer sometimes requests that the seller have the bird vaccinated before the purchase if the baby is likely to be exposed to other birds.
* Have you ever had a major health problem such as PDD (Proventricular Dilatation Disease), PBFD (Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease), Polyoma or other diseases in your breeding establishment or has your flock experienced multiple unexplained deaths?
If so, how were these problems handled and what steps were taken to prevent future problems? Is the flock now free of carriers of deadly diseases?
* Are necropsies performed 100% of the time in deaths from unknown cause in your establishment?
Necropsies are essential to determine the cause of death and the possible necessity for tests and treatments of other birds. There is no good reason for not having necropsies done on all dead birds other than those that died from accidents.
* Does anyone smoke in your birds' airspace?
Birds should never be exposed to smoke from tobacco or other substances. They are sensitive to inhaled toxins and early damage can have long-lasting health consequences.
* How often do you clean cages or aviaries and what disinfectants and pesticides do you use?
It is important that babies and their enclosures be kept clean but they should not be exposed to the danger of harsh cleaning agents and pesticides. The health consequences are long lasting. Good breeders use non-toxic cleaning agents.
Beware of sales tactics. Locate a breeder who has for sale the subspecies that you prefer. If a breeder insists that you buy a subspecies other than the one that you prefer, more than likely they do not have the bird that you want. If a breeder insists that you buy a pair of Eclectus when you prefer only one bird, find another breeder. It is not necessary to keep Eclectus in pairs. This usually is a sales tactic to double the profit for the seller. Ethical breeders do not make negative comments about other breeders and other birds. If you encounter negativity and other unprofessional sales tactics, find another breeder.
After The Interview
When you find a breeder from whom you would like to purchase a bird, ask for references and follow up by checking each of them. Buyers sometimes learn only after the purchase that a breeder's reputation was well known to local vets and area pet stores. There are many reputable and professional Eclectus breeders and it is well worth your time and effort to find them.
DO THEY TALK?
The answer to this question is a resounding "YOU BET!" Although considered by many to be the most beautiful of the parrots, Eclectus are not just pretty birds. Rivaling the African Grey and the Amazon in clarity of speech and scope of vocabulary, Eclectus not only repeat many words and phrases but also sing songs and talk to both their human and bird companions. Many Eclectus chicks learn their first word before they are weaned, especially if the hand-feeder repeats a word to them often.
There is of course some controversy as to whether parrots actually understand language, but in my opinion, they definitely associate words with events and things. For example, my Eclectus gang often use the phrase "Wanna go out"? when they want to change locations. Most Eclectus owners have been fooled more than once by phantom doorbells, running water, and family members talking in absentia! As with all parrots the wolf whistle seems to come naturally to the Eclectus. Eclectus are relatively "new kids on the block" among talking parrots.
I recently heard of a breeder who kept a few pairs of African Greys for the purpose of advertising, knowing that once the client came to see the Greys, but just happened to see the Eclectus, they would be hooked on the Eclectus. Some of the first-time viewer's questions are, "Are they REAL?" and "Do they talk?" Although it may sound too good to be true, these birds not only are strikingly beautiful but they definitely are very good talkers too. It's a WIN/WIN option for parrot lovers-except maybe for the man in England with the Vos male who sings The Yellow Submarine from beginning to end at least twelve times a day!
Healthy Eclectus chicks usually begin weaning at five or six weeks of age and finish by the time they are eleven or twelve weeks old. This is the perfect time to introduce a large variety of nutritious foods which the bird will continue to eat for a lifetime. Some of the foods which are most acceptable to a chick just beginning to wean are cooked brown rice and small pasta foods such as Acini Pepe. Cheerios, other breakfast cereals and whole wheat bread should be offered after moistening with pure water or juice. Many foods can be made palatable to a weaning chick by reconstituting them to their fresh moist state. This is easily done in the microwave oven by covering the food with water or juice and cooking for five minutes. Shelled sunflower seeds and millet sprays "plumped" by this method are relished by weaning chicks and adults alike. Also, the small seeds, such as Canary mix, which Eclectus are known to enjoy, are especially favored when prepared in this fashion.
Sections of corn on the cob, raw or cooked, are another favorite. It helps to loosen the kernels with a knife when first presented. Boiled eggs with the shell can be chopped and offered every few days to supply extra protein and calcium. Perishable foods must be removed several times daily to avoid spoilage. Chopped fresh fruits and vegetables should be offered daily. Papaya is an excellent choice as it is a soft fruit with the added bonus of papain, a wonderful digestive aid.
Monkey biscuits, moist or dry, are often enjoyed by weaning chicks, as well as small pellets. Shelled pine nuts, pecans, walnuts etc. can be offered with little concern about rapid spoilage.
Healthy Eclectus chicks seem to take weaning in stride and the process usually goes smoothly. Forced weaning is never a good idea but when a chick begs between feedings, a few bites of weaning food offered by hand is usually all that is needed to satisfy them. Weaning need not be a stressful time for Eclectus babies or their caregivers if we offer a healthy variety of palatable foods.
ENTERTAINING THE ECLECTUS
Parrots in the wild are very busy creatures. Locating food, water and nesting sites consumes much of their time. Socializing and grooming also keeps them busy. When we assume responsibility for their needs in a captive situation, we provide their food, water, and nestboxes, which virtually eliminates most of their natural activities. We've all seen the problems which boredom can cause in our pet birds such as feather plucking, screaming, and other undesirable behavior. TOYS TO THE RESCUE! Most of the toys made specifically for parrots are quite safe. Many of us also like to give our birds quality children's toys. Even used baby toys can be sterilized and hung in cages and playpens.
By observing a few basic precautions, our birds can be safely entertained and stimulated for many enjoyable hours. Eclectus parrots especially enjoy ropes and swings, which brings up an important word of caution; always make sure there are no loose strings or material to entangle your bird's toes or feet! Eclectus toys need not be "macaw proof" but plastic toys should be sturdy enough to withstand normal beak pressure without splintering into dangerously sharp pieces. Infant toys usually are not as beak-proof as toys made for toddlers and older children. Even small stuffed animal toys can be given to parrots if there are no small parts to be removed and possibly swallowed.
We must be ever diligent in preventing lead poisoning in our birds. Some of the old style bell toys for parrots use toxic lead clappers. Eclectus parrots enjoy and easily master the musical toys made for birds. Toys which incorporate food, such as millet sprays threaded into the wood blocks bored with holes for nut treats, are fun and rewarding for birds. Wooden toys which can be disintegrated by busy beaks are also appreciated by our feathered friends. We shouldn't consider a toy chewed to shreds as a sign of destructiveness. I believe that a "toy destroyed is a toy enjoyed"! We may not be able to bring the rainforest to our Eclectus, but with a little caution and imagination, we can create a safe and stimulating environment where they always can find something safe and fun to do!
GENERAL CARE OF THE ECLECTUS
Nutrition is one of the most important concerns in the care of the Eclectus. It is generally agreed that they need optimal amounts of natural Vitamin A in their diet. Also, because of their long digestive tract, we must provide ample amounts of fiber daily. They seem to thrive on a diet based on a wide variety of foods including fresh fruits and vegetables, sprouted seeds and beans, brown rice, beans and peas, high-fiber cereals, a variety of nuts and seeds, and high-quality pellets which are not artificially colored.
The favorite fruit of most Eclectus is the pomegranate. Unfortunately, it is seasonal and available for a very limited time. Other favorites are apples, grapes, papaya and mango. Cantaloupe, melons, berries, citrus fruits, kiwi, banana, cherries, peaches, pears, apricots, figs, guava, and nectarines are also good sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and enzymes which are essential and not only aid in the digestion of food but also stimulate the production of antibodies essential to the maintenance of good health. One of the easiest ways to insure an adequate supply of daily enzymes is to feed sprouted seeds, beans, and peas. Sprouts are truly a "live food" and raw, live foods are what our birds are biologically adapted to consume.
The favorite vegetable of most Eclectus is corn. They like it fresh, cooked, frozen, dried, or "plumped" by soaking shelled dry corn kernels and then cooking until soft. Another favorite veggie is sugar snap peas. They also like carrots, pole beans, celery, squash, broccoli, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, sun chokes, greens (such as parsley, mustard, turnip, collard, beet and dandelion), and all hot peppers.
Eclectus also relish cooked beans, brown rice, pasta, and whole wheat bread. In addition, it is good to offer quality protein foods several times a week. Chopped hard-boiled egg with the shell is an excellent protein food which Eclectus eat very well. Bits of well-cooked fish and turkey may also be offered.
Young Eclectus rarely attain their full body weight until the age of two years, therefore we need not worry about the calorie content of their food when they are very young. A dish of nuts and seeds can be offered full time as long as they also eat their fresh foods. Most Eclectus have such good appetites that this is not a problem. In older birds who have been given a predominately seed diet, it may be necessary to offer the nuts and seeds in the afternoon after they have consumed their fresh foods. Contrary to some things that have been written, seeds do provide health benefits to parrots. They contain the B-complex vitamins, vitamins A, D, and E, unsaturated fatty acids, protein, phosphorous, potassium and calcium. A good mix of seeds for the Eclectus is millet, sunflower, oats, wheat, buckwheat, pumpkin, sesame, and hemp. Young Eclectus are especially fond of pine nuts, which are soft and easy to eat. Other raw and unsalted nuts which may be offered are pecans, walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, hazel nuts, peanuts and fresh chestnuts. A few high-fiber, salt and sugar-free cereals which can be added to the seed and nut mix are shredded wheat squares, which the young Eclectus is particularly fond of, and Cheerios and Granola.
Foods which we never should give to our Eclectus include pork, avocado, chocolate, and any foods which contain high amounts of alcohol, salt or sugar.
Water is of course very important too. Birds cannot metabolize high amounts of chlorine, fluoride, and other chemicals added to our city water supplies, so it is necessary to find a source of the purest water possible for our birds. Do not add chemical vitamins or other supplements to your bird's water, as the bird can become dehydrated if he finds the taste objectionable and does not have enough foods with high water content to supply the necessary liquids to the diet.
Teflon in any form must be avoided. When over-heated, it can kill a bird within minutes. Most of us are aware of this coating on cooking utensils, but teflon seems to be found in more and more household articles. There are teflon-coated burner bibs which can give off deadly toxins every time the burner is heated, teflon-coated irons, ironing board covers, electric fry-pans, and others. The most recent horror stories of teflon-related deaths in birds involve the very popular bread machine. Most of them have teflon-coated baking pans inside which are heated for hours as the bread bakes, emitting deadly fumes with sometimes disastrous results to birds in the house. Some bird owners avoid buying products with teflon coating, except for one fry pan used properly for preparing eggs, and even that pan is kept in a special place so that other less diligent cooks will not mistakenly overheat it. Do not use sprays of any kind near your Eclectus, including hairsprays, cleaning fluids, spray starch, etc.
Young Eclectus who have been handfed and given the proper attention enjoy being cuddled but can become tired or overstimulated if handled excessively. Also, it is not a good idea to give them more attention when they first join your household than you can continue to give them in the future. They should be provided a darkened quiet place to sleep for at least twelve hours a night. When feasible, some birds enjoy having their cages covered at night as it makes them feel more secure. In all areas of care, moderation should be used. With the proper care, your Eclectus will provide you with years of delightful entertainment and companionship.
ALOE--PARROT PHARMACY IN A LEAF
Aloe Vera is a thick-leafed perrenial succulent belonging to the Lily family and resembling a cactus plant. It is perhaps the best-known medicinal plant in North America and is also known as the burn plant. It has been used for over four thousand years all over the world for a great variety of human and animal ailments. If you apply the gel from the inner leaf to an itchy insect bite or a painful sunburn, you will get instant relief. Even cuts and bruises are instantly soothed by the application of the gel, due to the pain-killing action of Lupeol, Salicylic Acid, and Magnesium. A poultice made from this inner-leaf gel is highly effective on burns, bites, cuts, blisters, bruises, and blemishes. As a first aid-treatment, it can stop pain and reduce the chance of infection and scarring while greatly enhancing the healing process. Although skin cancer is a serious medical problem requiring medical attention, there are many reports of total cures by applying Aloe Vera gel two to four times a day for several months. Cold pressed Aloe Vera gel is hypoallergenic, has anti-itch properties, is a superior skin penetrant, and is an effective skin moisturizer. It's renewed popularity has not been lost on the cosmetics industry. Just read the labels of such products as moisturizers, cleansers, deodorants, lotions, suntan preparations, shampoos and conditioners for hair and quite often you will find Aloe Vera listed among the ingredients, sometimes as the main ingredient. Even "baby wipes" now contain Aloe Vera!
Many of us use this natural healing agent to treat the skin problems of our parrots. Whereas chemical ointments may have toxic side effects in our birds, Aloe can be used to soothe and heal minor cuts, bruises, abrasions, and rashes with complete safety. There is preliminary evidence that Aloe gel spray is effective with some feather plucking in parrots. It is thought that this effect is due to the "anti-itch"properties of Aloe. The sooner treatment is begun, the better the chances of cessation of this frustrating problem, as the long-term habitual plucker is more difficult to treat. Try filling a spray bottle with four parts pure water and one part Aloe Vera. (Do not use cold spray on the bare skin of a feather-plucked bird). It can be made stronger or weaker as needed.
From the experiences I personally know of with Aloe Detox, it probably should be a part of every parrot owner's first aid arsenal. Aloe Detox is a detoxifying formula available from better health food stores. It contains double-strength Aloe Vera Gel (200:1) with pure Aloe Vera pulp and a natural herbal blend of Milk Thistle, Burdock, Dandelion, Echinacea, Green Tea, Red Clover and Blue Cohosh. There are several brands available but the cases that I know of personally were successfully treated with a brand called NATUREADE, which uses all organic ingredients and has been around since 1926. At this writing, it costs less than fifteen dollars for thirty two fluid ounces. It is recommended at the ratio of one part formula to two parts water for human consumption. Because it is non-toxic, one can adjust the amount given a parrot according to the severity of its medical condition. One case was that of an Amazon baby, which a practicing veterinarian had given up for dead because of a very stubborn and serious crop problem. The bird had been treated with spinach, BeneBac, Nystatin and even Tylosine with some improvement, but after two feedings with Aloe Detox, the bird made a dramatic recovery and the problem has never recurred. In another case, two veterinarians had been unable to diagnose or successfully treat an adult female Eclectus which was extremely ill. Both had tried everything at their disposal to save her but finally sent her home to be kept comfortable until the inevitable end. In desperation, the owner started the bird on Aloe Detox and for the first time in six weeks, the Eclectus resumed eating, gained weight, and within weeks had PERFECTLY NORMAL VALUES on a CBC. One of the veterinarians commented that had he not drawn the blood himself, he would have sworn that it came from a different bird which had never been ill! These are documented cases, although no formal tests with controls have been run on this product as far as I know. At the very least, when our veterinarians give up on seriously ill birds or other pets, there is nothing to lose by trying this all-natural and non-toxic product.
Although it has been used in the United States mainly as a treatment for surface skin injuries and problems, Aloe is used primarily as a beverage in the rest of the world. Aloe is effective for many inflammatory conditions of the digestive system and other organs. It has been shown in lab tests to prevent stomach lesions and to cure gastric and peptic ulcers. There have been many reports that it is effective in cases of colitis and other inflammations of the digestive tract. Just as in humans, many health conditions in parrots and other animals begin with digestive problems. Many parrot owners now seek to prevent these problems by the regular addition of Aloe Vera to their water or food supply. In the wild, our birds could seek out natural clays and plants to detoxify the foods they consume which may have toxic properties. Few of us provide our birds an effective substitute for this valuable component of their diet. In Russia, tests were conducted on rabbits to see if Aloe increased the body's ability to handle harmful substances. Of the rabbits given Aloe Vera for thirty days, a third of them were able to survive deadly doses of strychnine, whereas no rabbits without the Aloe Vera were able to survive. This could indicate that the natural protective functions of the body are stimulated by this remedy. Considering the fact that the fresh fruits and vegetables as well as the seeds and grains that we feed to our birds are USUALLY contaminated by varying amounts of pesticides and other chemicals, the addition of a detoxifying agent could prevent many illnesses and discomforts as well as prolong their lifespans, which all too often are not what they could and should be. Perhaps the addition of Aloe to the diet of parrots could be considered the next best thing to feeding all organic foods, which sometimes are expensive and difficult to obtain. The polysaccharides found in Aloe Vera gel exhibit antiviral activity and enhance immune cell function. AIDS patients have been able to obtain relief from many of their symptoms such as night sweats and fever without the toxic side effects of prescription drugs. If this enhanced immunity translates into less illness for our birds, it's definitely worth trying.
Many arthritis sufferers have found that their aches and pains respond to an oral regimen of four tablespoons of Aloe Vera gel daily. At that rate, a gallon of gel or juice will last one person for two months. When the dosage is titrated down to the small amount needed for a parrot, Aloe Vera may be the least expensive supplement on the market. It is obvious in older parrots that they too have arthritic changes causing aches and pains. It certainly would seem possible that they too may be helped by the addition of Aloe to their diet. There are many claims by dog owners that the addition of Aloe to the diet made remarkable improvements in their dog's crippling arthritis. Many people swear by stabilized Aloe Vera juice as a nasal irrigant to prevent and eliminate the discomfort of sinus conditions. Many of our birds too suffer with this malady and the use of an Aloe Vera and saline solution to flush congested sinuses may prove to be a useful remedy. In addition to all of the aforementioned benefits to our birds, the following conditions also have been improved by the use of Aloe Vera: abscesses, cysts, E.Coli, fungus, mycobacterium, strep and staph infections, salmonella, respiratory infections, yeast infections, and parasites! And best of all, even if Aloe Vera does not improve ALL of these conditions, how many other remedies can make the claim that they do no harm? At the very least, in non-emergency situations, Aloe Vera can be tried before other products which may have detrimental side effects. Perhaps preventative use of this wonderful natural remedy will restore some of the components missing from the diets of our parrots and prevent some of the associated problems.
THE MAIZE CRAZE
An informal survey of owners of Eclectus parrots has established corn as one of the favorite foods of this species. And why not? It is a bright and shiny hue of yellow; it is sweet tasting and juicy; and it has "peel appeal"! Parrots instinctively try to peel every morsel of food presented to them, so each kernel of corn is a pleasurable task with a tasty reward! For very young Eclectus just starting to sample solid foods, I often cut the corn off in small pieces which they can manage easily. Even the natural packaging of an ear of corn can be enjoyed by a caged bird. The inner husks and silks can capture the curiosity of parrots who can spend a good deal of time shredding them.
Birds can be stimulated to try foods by presenting them in different shapes. Many people offer fresh corn in "rounds" and when cut in this fashion, one ear of corn can be divided into many pieces. Eclectus love to hold these rounds with one foot while happily perching on the other and munching away. Besides presenting it in its natural form, there are many other ways to prepare corn for the Eclectus. Although it is unlikely that an Eclectus in the wild would ever have the opportunity to sample cooked corn, somehow they have a natural taste for it and almost every bird will choose it over uncooked corn.
"Plumped" corn is the absolute favorite food of every one of my Eclectus pets and breeders. In fact, it is the most sought-after food of parents feeding babies in the nest. I offer it as part of their soft-food mix which also contains beans and brown rice, and usually chopped sweet potato for the natural Vitamin A content which Eclectus need. But, you can easily prepare it alone and offer it to your Eclectus of all ages. It is very inexpensive and is similar to the popular but more expensive pre-cooked mixes available in pet supply stores. I usually buy clean shelled whole corn from feed or pet stores but shelled popcorn works just as well. The kernels are not quite as large as the feed corn but the birds seem to like it just as much. The main advantage of using popcorn is that it requires no washing, whereas feed corn sometimes contains bits of trash. After the first time you prepare it, I believe you will agree that it is an extremely easy food to prepare and it can be frozen in individual portions. Simply soak a bag or two of popcorn or a couple pounds of feed corn overnight in a large stockpot. In the morning, cook for a couple hours or until the kernels have swollen and popped and tripled in volume. You will need to add water as it is absorbed. Cool before serving or freezing for later. That's all there is to it and your birds will let you know what a wonderful parrot food this is!
Recently, while testing recipes to feed parents of nest babies, I discovered another corn food which Eclectus love! It is similar to a flan or soft pudding. If you can boil water and stir, you can make your birds very happy! You need only fine ground corn flour, available in most supermarkets. Stir it into boiling water until it starts to thicken, and continue stirring for another minute or two. At this point, you have a soft pudding. If you want to embellish the recipe, you can add pumpkin puree, apple sauce, or baby food fruits or veggies. I think you may be surprised just how much your birds like this simple food. You'll have no problem finding a feathered friend to "lick the spoon"! It can be refrigerated for several days or frozen in squares for later use.
Corn contains appreciable amounts of Vitamin A as well as Phosphorus, Potassium and Magnesium. So perhaps our Eclectus are demonstrating their natural ability to choose foods which will keep them healthy by their love of this very versatile food.
TOE-TAPPING AND WING FLIPPING
Overall, the Eclectus is a healthy and hearty parrot. When fed appropriately and provided clean and relatively stress-free surroundings, health problems are rare. However there is one worrisome syndrome to which Eclectus parrots are prone. Toe tapping, or more accurately, foot clenching, is the rhythmic, involuntary opening and closing of one or both feet. The toenails sometimes make a tapping sound as they hit the perch during the opening and closing of the foot. This repetitive and involuntary motion should not be confused with the display of purposeful foot stamping that cockatoos sometimes exhibit when they feel threatened.
Wing flipping, or flicking, also is an involuntary and repetitive movement of the wings. The wings droop and then are tightened against the body, making a slight popping sound. All parrots flick their wings occasionally. They sometimes do it several times in succession to rearrange the wing feathers, to show excitement and pleasure, and to prepare for sleep. This behavior is not repetitive and is not a symptom of a problem. Wing flipping as part of the toe-tapping syndrome is repetitive and continuous. Some birds exhibit symptoms of this syndrome for weeks, or even months, although it usually does not last longer than a week. It is stressful for owners and birds alike.
Some of the remedies that have helped to alleviate the symptoms are exercise, calcium supplements, the elimination of all vitamin and mineral supplements including spirulina and pellets, and treatment with a detoxifying formula of aloe and herbs. The prudent course of action when a bird has these symptoms is an immediate vet check with comprehensive blood work including tests for metal toxicity. Although many vets are not yet familiar with the syndrome, it is important to rule out metal toxicity which can cause toe tapping and wing flipping. Metal toxicity can be fatal but with diagnosis and chelation treatments, the bird's health can be restored. Only blood tests can reveal metal toxicity, as well as calcium deficiency, another culprit.
Causes of the syndrome
Obviously, there are a number of triggers for the toe tapping and wing flipping syndrome experienced by some Eclectus parrots. We have attempted through a general survey to determine some of the factors that the affected birds have in common.
Birds with perfectly normal blood work can be affected and these are the cases that baffle owners and veterinarians alike. To date, no specific research studies have been reported. Owners have been frustrated to discover that their veterinarians are not always aware of this syndrome and therefore doctor and client must investigate causes and solutions together.
One of the first triggers of toe tapping to be discovered was the over supplementing of vitamins and minerals. When an Eclectus parrot is consuming a full complement of nutrients from its diet, especially if pellets are a good portion of the diet, the addition of supplemental vitamins and minerals can start an episode of toe tapping in a susceptible bird. The reason that one bird is affected while others on the same diet remain symptom free is perhaps a matter of sensitivity, just as food sensitivities depend upon the individual chemical makeup of each bird.
The food supplement that has caused the most cases of toe tapping and wing flipping appears to be spirulina. It is a microscopic, spiral-shaped blue-green algae which is a single celled plant. It is often touted as the most nutrient-rich food in the world, which just might be the problem for some Eclectus parrots. Many people swear by the health-giving properties of spirulina for themselves and their pets. One of the manufactured bird diets most popular with Avian veterinarians is fortified with spirulina. However, since Eclectus thrive on a nutrient-sparse diet in the wild, it is possible that this nutrient-dense food is simply too rich for the system of some sensitive individuals and therefore causes the toe tapping and wing-flipping syndrome. Another fact worth consideration is that "all spirulina is not created equal". Because it is grown on water, quality control is an important issue.
Another trigger of the toe-tapping and wing-flipping syndrome is low blood levels of the important mineral, calcium. Blood tests will reveal whether or not blood levels of calcium are low and the syndrome usually clears up quickly once calcium levels are restored to normal. One veterinarian stated that calcium should be supplemented not only when a blood test indicates low calcium, but low normal calcium levels as well. Toe tapping sometimes clears up within an hour of the administration of calcium (when low calcium caused the problem). Liquid NeoCalglucon, available from pharmacists without a prescription, is one source of oral calcium often recommended by veterinarians. There are calcium and magnesium supplements from health food stores that also are effective but calcium should not be given full time on a long-term basis without testing and monitoring by a veterinarian. Natural sources of calcium are safe and easy for the owner to provide. Baked egg shells are calcium rich and easily assimilated by healthy birds. If cuttlebone is available, it is possible to get a therapeutic amount of calcium into a bird that is experiencing toe tapping by "shaving" cuttlebone onto a favorite food. There has been some concern about cuttlebone contaminants so a source of cuttlebone that is routinely tested would be good.
Calcium deficiencies do not occur in healthy birds with normal metabolism if they are given the proper diet. Eclectus parrots effectively assimilate necessary nutrients, including calcium, from whole foods unless there is a problem. It is important to know the best food sources of calcium. Parrots lack the enzyme needed to digest milk products so dairy products are not the best calcium source for them. Leafy green foods such as kale, greens such as mustard, turnip and dandelion, broccoli, as well as almonds (a big favorite of Eclectus), Brazil nuts and white navy beans contain good amounts of calcium. Other food sources of calcium are apricots, beans, carrots, beets, endive, figs, hazelnuts, oranges and watercress.
We conducted an unofficial survey of the owners of Eclectus parrots affected by the toe-tapping and wing-flipping syndrome. Two hundred cases were logged. The responses have provided some interesting information about factors common to the birds that have been affected, the diagnoses and treatments recommended by veterinarians, and the remedies that have been effective. I am hopeful that the survey information will interest professionals in the avian community who have the medical background to research the problem. It is a source of frustration for Eclectus owners that there is no scientific research available to further our understanding of the syndrome.
*The majority of Eclectus parrots affected by toe tapping and or wing flipping are males.
*The majority of the affected birds are Solomon Island subspecies.
*The second largest number affected are Vosmaeri subspecies.
*Nearly all those affected are pet birds rather than breeding birds.
*Nearly half of the toe-tapping incidents were described as "severe".
*Over half of the toe-tapping incidents ended in a week or less.
*Half of the cases occurred in northern locations in the fall and winter.
*Most affected birds live indoors.
*Nearly all of the birds received a soaking bath at least once a week.
*Over half of the birds were kept at temperatures of 70 to 80 degrees.
*Many of the respondents used a humidifier to increase humidity for the birds.
*Many of the affected birds tapped continuously night and day.
*Over half of the affected birds were seen by a veterinarian.
*Approximately half of the surveyed birds affected ate pellets and/or fortified seeds.
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