Patty | BirdTricks | Parrot Training Blog - Part 4

Why Do We Feed Our Birds Pellets?

 June 28th, 2015
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Cold pressed Feed Your Flock pellets

Cold pressed Feed Your Flock pellets

What is a parrot pellet?

Formulated diets for our pets have been around for years. After watching the booming cereal industry produce tons of fast, convenient breakfast foods for eager consumers, someone cleverly put the same machinery to use to produce dry dog and cat food.

In later years, as parrots became more commonplace in homes all over the world, this same theory was applied to a formulated diet for them. The intention of the parrot pellet was to pack as much nutrition in to as small an edible item as possible.

How are pellets made?

Most of the pellets available today are made one of two ways: extruding or cold pressing. When a pellet is extruded, the ingredients are ground and processed through a machine similar to a pasta maker which forces the product into the desired shape and cuts the pieces to a uniform size. The extrusion process uses high heat in a couple of phases during production which, unfortunately, destroys nutrients. The majority of parrot pellets are extruded.

Other pellets are produced using a cold pressing method. Cold pressed pellets are forced into shape using high pressure, without the application of heat. Our pellet brand, Feed Your Flock, uses the cold pressing method to ensure that nutrients remain intact.

Why do we feed our birds pellets?

The original intention for dry pet food was convenience. The earliest dry foods made for cats and dogs were pitifully inadequate nutritionally. They were basically comprised of food by-products deemed unfit for humans.

Over the years, as the veterinary sciences have grown, the quality has improved. Parrot pellets came into existence as an alternative to seed. They have definitely improved the health of companion birds all over the world.

Are pellets alone nutritious enough?

No. There is not a single pellet on the market that can meet all of a parrot’s dietary needs, regardless of what their packaging claims.

A proper diet for a parrot should be mainly fresh produce. Pellets should be included to enhance a diet high in vegetables. I view them as the equivalent of a daily multi-vitamin which is intended to supplement a diet, not carry it.

Parrots that survive only on pellets do not receive adequate nutrition and often develop liver problems later in life as a result.

Feeding your parrot properly is your most important job. Without good health, she will not be able to fully enjoy her life, no matter how wonderful you try to make it.

Click HERE for more information on proper diet.

Cooking for Parrots diet and nutrition course/cookbook set

Cooking for Parrots diet and nutrition course/cookbook set


Is Fruit Good For Our Birds?

 June 21st, 2015
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Q: Why do you guys say I shouldn’t give my bird fruit every day? I keep reading that we should feed fruit and vegetables.

-Blake, B., Barstow, CA

I understand your confusion. It is always fruit and vegetables this...fruit and vegetables that. Whenever discussion is about diet and nutrition, it is difficult to find the word “vegetable” when it isn’t paired with the word “fruit”. Even though these words seem inseparably linked together, nutritionally speaking, comparing fruits and veggies is like comparing apples and…okra.

It is really all about the carbohydrates. Carbs are fuel. All foods contain carbs. We need them to power our energy sucking brains and give us the vigor to get through the day. Carbs are essential to our bodies, but they can cause problems in the diet, especially when given in excess.

“Simple” carbs, the kind found in fruit and other high sugar foods, are molecularly structured to travel easily and quickly into the blood stream. This explains the sugar rush we experience – it gives us a sudden jolt of “fuel”. It also causes a chemical process that takes place in the body that causes simple sugars to be stored as fat.

By comparison, vegetables are a “complex” carb. Their structure provides a slower and more regulated entry into the blood stream that does not set off the chemical process that causes the body to want to store it as fat.

However, over-indulgence in any carb can result in fat build up. This is why, in our cookbook and nutrition course, we advise limited servings of all grains and legumes (pulses) both of which are high in carbs. This is also why birdie bread should be used as a means to coax birds to a vegetable high diet and not as the main meal every day.

Vegetables are, without question, the best choice of produce to fuel your bird’s body. There is no denying that fruit has nutritional value, but fruit cultivated and engineered by man has become less nutritious and is higher in sugar than the wild fruit that grows without human intervention. The fruits that wild birds dine on are more valuable to their diet than the fruits we get in the supermarket. This is so much so the case that we, at Birdtricks, are now calling for fruits to be offered only as “snack foods”.

When you pair vegetables with fruit in your bird’s food bowl, the vegetables will often take a back seat in preference to the better tasting fruit. This will eventually impact your bird’s health and body weight.

**IMPORTANT NOTE – This DOES NOT apply to the nectar eating lories and lorikeets. They have evolved to have a different diet than the other parrot species.


How Much Should My Bird Weigh?

 June 14th, 2015
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The domestication of animals is something that humans have done through breeding for millennia to manipulate animals with the intention of creating ones that are used for service or companionship, that are suited to be in human society and are aesthetically pleasing.

Domestication is what we have done with dogs, which started out as wolves. Humans bred dogs together which both possessed qualities they wanted to carry on – from personality traits to size to coloring and markings. It is more complicated than this, but long story short, we have developed the Chihuahua from a wolf. You have to admit that is pretty impressive.

Parrots are still very much wild animals. Many of the larger, long-lived species living with us probably had wild grandparents. Even with all the breeding that is done in captivity, birds cannot be considered a domestic pet…yet.

I think it is fair to say, however, that we have begun that long process. Mind you, this is an undertaking that is hundreds, even thousands of years in the making and I don’t think there are many people who are intentionally setting out to breed birds with domestication in mind, but I think it is happening nonetheless.

You are probably wondering what any of this has to do with what your bird should weigh, but I assure you it is very relevant!

Congo african grey

Congo african grey

Because we are so often discussing health and diet here at Birdtricks, we are always encouraging people to weigh their birds frequently. Since it is in every parrot’s nature (even our companion parrots) to mask illness so as not to advertise to passing predators that they are weak and compromised, they leave us two ways to monitor their health:  1) by assessing the quality of their droppings and 2) watching for dramatic weight fluctuations. No matter how hard they try, they cannot cover up in these areas. There is unquestionably something going on with a bird that has lost weight rapidly or is continually rising in weight.

If you are to successfully gauge your bird’s health by weighing him, you must know what your bird’s weight should be. We get numerous questions asking us what the correct weight for a (insert your bird’s species here) should be. It is a very hard question to answer because the size of birds within the same species can naturally vary dramatically.

I have two healthy male cockatiels – one weighs 74 grams, the other weighs 104 grams. That is a HUGE difference.

If you were to do an online search, you would find a number of charts that list the “average” weights of the most commonly kept species. Many are based on the weights of wild birds.

But someone who has an African grey, for instance, and does not have exposure to other African greys, he will have no means to judge whether his bird is large or small for its species. The weight of a congo African grey can vary from 400 to 700 grams because they occupy a very large area in central Africa and, regionally, they vary in their size and shade. If it turns out that his CAG is small and weighs 600 grams, he would have an overweight bird without knowing it based on the information on weight charts.

In captivity, the birds that are being bred are not selecting their own mate. They are paired with another of their species based on availability and willingness. We can only speculate about what qualities a wild female bird looks for when selecting the right mate but I suspect there is much more to it than picking one that is healthy and strong enough to defend the nest. When humans make those selections for birds, it begins the domestication process.

There are other complications where the subspecies of some parrots, such as the greater sulphur crested cockatoos which most people are unable to differentiate are unwittingly being bred together in captivity.

As we increase the number of captive bred birds, we are clouding what was once the norm. Weights of wild birds are not necessarily comparable to the weight of captive birds anymore. With a captive bred bird, we can’t be completely certain of its origins or whether it is fully the species we assume it to be. That is only going to get worse as time passes and the weight charts and lists available online are barely usable even as guidelines.

The keel bone is the plate  runnng between the ribs.

The keel bone is the plate runnng between the ribs.

The best way to find YOUR bird’s optimum weight is by going to the vet, determining that your bird is healthy and using THAT weight as the norm for the future.

The flesh surrounding your bird’s keel bone, the sharp bone that runs down the center of your bird’s chest, is very telling when trying to judge if your bird is at a healthy weight. The flesh should be nearly level with the ridge of the bone. You should neither be able grip the bone with your fingers nor feel flesh extending past it. The flesh should feel firm and muscular.

There are different degrees of “overweight”, of course – the difference between being heavy and being obese, and for this reason, it is best to let your avian vet make the determination about your bird’s healthy weight.

Once you do this, you can disregard any weight averages you come across online and know that the weight of someone else’s same species bird will not be relative to your bird’s weight.

As is always the case, a companion bird’s weight is in the hands of its human. We should provide opportunities for exercise, and encourage our birds to walk, climb and fly as much as possible.

Their diet should include fresh produce EVERY DAY and a healthy brand of pellets. It should not include human snack foods or be solely comprised of high calories foods like seed.  If you are feeding your bird in the manner you should be, its weight will automatically be appropriate.

Click here to learn about parrot nutrition.






Do Parrots Need A Daily Routine?

 June 7th, 2015
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I was reading a thread on a parrot forum the other day that questioned if parrots have a need for routine. One of the posters took control of the discussion and went on to claim that it was very important to a parrot’s emotional health that you maintain a schedule and do things at the same time every day. She said this is what you need to do to keep your parrot feeling secure and comforted.

Most of the posters fell in line with this thinking except one, who received quite a smackdown for his assertion that parrots are adaptable and able to accept change. As usual, chaos erupted and the learning stopped at this point. I suspect it was his last post in this forum.

So who is right? I am with the guy who dared to buck the system. However, the lady promoting the need for routine was very right about one thing: parrots need to feel secure.

As parrots are prey animals, they can be most at ease when they are familiar with their surroundings. It makes it easier to spot things that are out of place and may signal danger. However, the reins of a schedule will eventually cause a parrot to feel less secure.

In the wild, the only real constant in a parrot’s life is the rising and setting of the sun and even that will change seasonally. Food and water sources dry up. Fires, flooding, drought and severe weather can dramatically change the terrain and force a bird to look for a new home. A wild bird that cannot adapt will not survive.  Why do we think our companion parrots are incapable of it?

For the companion parrot, life is further complicated by the ever changing lives of their human caregiver. Because our parrots live in the human environment, they are subjected to moves to new homes, changes in our work schedules and the occasional addition of anything from new furniture to new children. Birds that are unable to cope with life in our homes will not be secure.

Doesn’t it make sense then, that we should not make them rigid in their expectations by delivering each daily event at the same time and in the same way? Shouldn’t we be trying to make variety familiar to them so when new things happen, they are comfortable with it?

You cannot guarantee that the life you lead today will be the same in five years, no matter how stable you consider yourself to be. Keeping your bird on a routine will only make him less able to cope with the changes that your life will inflict on him. Prepare him now by making him okay with whatever prevails.


A Healthy Parrot Environment Needs Clean Perches

 May 25th, 2015
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As my cockatiels get older, they are spending more and more time on their flat perches. I still provide a variety of standard perches for them, but their tired, old feet always head back to the flat perches before too long.

Flat perches gain a lot of points for offering comfort to my cockatiels in their golden years, but lose points with their constant need for cleaning. The beauty of the design of a standard perch, taken from nature, is that droppings fall from the bird to the cage floor, as does discarded food. As usual, Mother Nature has worked all the kinks out for us.

If I don’t clean the flat perches every day, however, the cockatiels will be standing in a pile of their own poop and whatever vegetables were served that day. Even though round perches don’t “collect” debris in the same way a flat perch does, it does not mean they remain clean.

When your parrot picks up food, traces of it will stick to his feet which he will transfer to his perches and cage bars as he maneuvers through the cage. These traces of food collect bacteria even when build-up is not visible to the eye. Birds often walk through their droppings and transfer those in the same manner.

The problem with dirty perches is twofold: 1) A bird will walk through bacteria on his perches and then pick up his food with those same dirty feet. 2) A bird’s foot is not fleshy and it is a very short trip for bacteria that has penetrated the skin to reach the bone. A defiant infection in that area could cause a bird to lose their foot.


Because parrots are so messy, areas that need attention are generally obvious. It is very easy to overlook the need to clean the perches. I actually have to write myself reminders.

How often you need to clean your bird’s perches depends on your bird and your cage set up, but the answer is: “as needed”. Many birds wipe their beaks off on their perches and if the perch is located beneath a commonly used area of the cage, dropping might land there frequently. If there is visible build up on the perches, they need to be cleaned at that time.

For perches that “appear” to be clean, wipe them down with a damp cloth twice a week and try to make it a habit to scrub them down using hot water and dish soap once a month. Easier still is using a handheld steamer to clean the perches. It will kill the bacteria and get into hard to reach crevices AND, this is the best part, you can clean the perches without removing them from the cage. You WILL need to remove your bird while you are steaming for safety reasons,  steam can seriously burn them.

Continuous cleaning is a difficult part of bird ownership, and I don’t mean to be adding to your work load, but perches are something your bird has daily contact with and we need to keep them clean so the environment remains healthy for our birds.


3 Mistakes You Must Not Make With A Cockatoo

 May 17th, 2015
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Umbrella cockatoo

If you are the kind of person who has scoured the internet to learn everything available about your parrot, you have no doubt come across this word: “anthropomorphism”. It means to assign human traits to things that are not human, such as a parrot. An example of this would be the presumption that parrots fall in love like humans do based on the fact that they choose a mate for life.

Anthropomorphizing is a tool that many humans use to try to make sense of things that they don’t understand. However, when we allow ourselves that convenience it causes us to make mistakes in our care for our parrots, such as allowing them to “play” in a “fort” they are building inside a dark cabinet.

In reality, parrots choose mates based on their ability to produce healthy chicks and defend their nest. It has nothing to do with having found their other half. The “fort” is a nest and the bird is definitely not playing. However, we are human and it is hard to see things from a parrot’s perspective. It is even harder to WANT to see things from their perspective because sometimes it is a harsh look at the realities of nature.

Anthropomorphizing is a hole we don’t want to fall into. One of the biggest struggles we have in doing things right for our parrots is with our human-ness because it makes something that should be completely natural feel like work. However, our human-ness is also the very thing that makes us try so hard to get it right.

Moluccan cocaktoo

Moluccan cocaktoo

The cockatoo, specifically the white ones, are parrots that excel at pulling on our heartstrings. There are specific traits that they have that make it nearly impossible to avoid anthropomorphizing their behavior. As it turns out, the traits that make us fall in love with cockatoos are the same ones that cause their behavior problems and land them in rescues everywhere. A cockatoo is his own worst enemy.

There is an abundance of very entertaining videos posted all over that make life with a cockatoo appear to be the most fun a human could ever hope for with a companion animal. I will put money on the fact that those videos depict the day’s best 3 minutes with that bird and that the endings of some of the videos were edited out.

For anyone considering a cockatoo, I want to offer three pieces of advice that might help you avoid ruining your life and the life of your new cockatoo.

  1. Don’t allow your cockatoo to become over-excited. The videos mentioned above often depict cockatoos in a very excited state. They are often “arguing” with their humans with very animated, human-like gestures and voice inflections that are an impeccable imitation of human excitement. It’s impressive. However, they aren’t just pretending to be excited. They are excited. There is a tipping point with a cockatoo where excitement becomes aggression. It is very much like the child whose birthday party has become overwhelming – the event often ends with tears and tantrums. You will be wise to end the excitement while it is still of a happy nature. That time frame is short. Remember, you can always initiate more fun times later, but the bite you might receive because you waited too long will be on everyone’s permanent record.
  2. Try to keep your cockatoo off the floor. I know. This is a tough one. Cockatoos tend to migrate to the floor. I don’t know whether it is because they are ground foragers or because their brazen nature makes them unafraid of things that tower over them. What I do know is that they have a foot fetish and a floor is the place where feet are most commonly found. If you notice your cockatoo quietly staring at your feet, you need to remove one or the other from the floor right away. This behavior is very common and I feel it is tied into over excitement. Even the feet of seated people are in motion more than we might realize and from the vantage point of a cockatoo that is on the floor, it may look like an invitation to “interact”. A cockatoo can cause serious injury to a human foot.
  3. Resist the urge to cuddle your cockatoo. This is the hardest one of all, but also the most important and it is the reason I went on about anthropomorphizing at the beginning of this post. The cuddly nature of the cockatoo is their biggest selling point, but also, unfortunately, their downfall. It is hard to understand why a cockatoo would want to cuddle with a human being, a predator. I know that with my goffins cockatoo, Theo, it is a sexual thing. The minute she feels the warmth of an embrace she starts to quiver. But with Linus it is different – it feels like hugging a child. There is only a sense of the need for affection, comfort and love and it feels right, but giving in to your bird’s constant requests for this type of interaction will result in problem behaviors. A constantly cuddled cockatoo will grow into an overly needy and demanding bird which can’t get through the day without his human. They often never learn to play independently because they are constantly seeking human attention. They become seriously high-maintenance birds, screaming until they get what they have grown to expect from their human flock member.

Those who have the best success with a cockatoo understand and dispense tough love. They know that they must never compare the behaviors of cockatoos with those of humans, and they understand that less is more when it comes to just about everything they do with their bird.